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"IT is a wild storm, Master."
"Yes, and it grows wilder, Gibo," replied Bomba, the jungle boy, as he strove to breast the gale that was sweeping all before it. "Gibo and Bomba must seek shelter till the storm is past."
"The gods are angry at us," muttered Gibo. "They are sending the demons of the wind to destroy Bomba and Gibo."
Bomba made no reply. His keen eyes were darting hither and thither through the tangle of the jungle, seeking some place of refuge from the falling trees, uprooted by the storm, that threatened at any moment to crush out the lives of the two adventurers, for the gale had now risen to a veritable hurricane and was tearing through the jungle in unbridled fury. It had risen with the suddenness characteristic of Amazonian tempests and had caught the travelers unawares.
The rain was coming down in torrents. The roar of thunder was deafening. The glare of lightning was almost continuous.
Etched by its fierce light against the forest background, the jungle boy, as he stood there, presented a striking figure. He was tall for his age of fifteen years, clean cut, as symmetrical as a Greek god, with muscles rippling beneath his bronzed skin that betokened tremendous physical strength. His features were strong and finely chiseled, his eyes brown as was the hair that waved above his bare head.
His only garments consisted of a short tunic and a puma skin stretched across his breast. Sandals of the native type shod his feet. He was armed with bow and arrows, and at his belt was his knife, a deadly machete, almost a foot in length and of razor edge.
His servant and faithful follower, Gibo, was a stalwart, dark-skinned Indian of a jungle tribe whom Bomba had once rescued from a flood and who from that time had followed his master with doglike devotion, ready at any moment to give his life for the jungle boy.
Both were heavily laden with bundles containing the precious books and manuscripts found in the steel chest of Sobrinini, the snake woman, on the banks of the Underground River. It was by means of these manuscripts and books that Bomba hoped to solve the mystery that shrouded his parentage and had placed him, a white boy, in the depths of the Amazonian jungle.
Bomba was in a part of the jungle that was unfamiliar to him. The search for the Underground River, from which he was now returning, had carried him far afield. Doubtless there were caves in this vicinity that would afford shelter from the fury of the storm, but he did not know where to look for them.
He jumped aside to avoid a falling tree. As he did so a shout came from Gibo.
"Over there, Master!" cried the Indian eagerly, pointing ahead and a little to the right. "There are rocks and they overhang. They will shelter Bomba and Gibo from the falling trees and the power of the wind."
They hurried in that direction and found a little knoll from the side of which protruded a shelf of rock. There was not room beneath it to stand upright, but the travelers were in no mood to cavil.
They crouched beneath the ledge as far back as possible, eased the heavy bundles from their shoulders, and breathed sighs of relief. It was comparatively dry, and a bowlder at the side shielded them from the wrath of the gale.
"Bomba and Gibo have followed a long trail," remarked the jungle boy. "It was in Bomba's mind that he might reach the maloca of Hondura before the night set in, but this he cannot do. Gibo and Bomba must spend another night in the jungle."
"It is the heavy load that has held Bomba and Gibo back," replied the Indian, looking moodily at the packs they had been carrying. "It may be that there is a curse upon them. They are things that have been in the hands of the witch woman, and the touch of a witch is death."
"It is not well to speak ill of the dead," Bomba rebuked him. "Sobrinini was no witch. The gods had made her mad."
"But she talked to snakes and the snakes taught her their cunning," persisted the superstitious native. "Let us leave the packs behind, Master. Then will our feet be swift to reach the maloca of Hondura."
"Gibo speaks words that are like the idle wind," returned the jungle boy. "Let him be—"
He stopped, transfixed. At a little distance he saw a huge, undulating body making its way through the jungle and coming in their direction.
He could not at the moment see the head, but he knew what the reptile was. A monster anaconda, caught in the forest by the storm, was hurrying toward the shelter of its den. It was a huge specimen, more than twenty feet in length and with an immensely thick body. That awful body could crush an ox in its folds and crack the bones like pipestems.
Now Bomba caught a glimpse of the frightful head as it lifted for a moment, the eyes seeking the easiest path among the tangled underbrush.
Gibo's eyes had followed the direction of his leader's, and now they were bulging from his head.
"The lord of the jungle!" he exclaimed, with a groan. "Let us flee, Master."
"It is too late," replied Bomba, as he pressed back against the wall of his shelter. "He would see and pursue us and he can move faster than we. It may be that he will pass by without seeing Gibo and Bomba."
Bomba unslung his bow from his shoulder and fitted an arrow to the string. At the same time he drew his knife from his belt and laid it beside him.
"When Bomba shouts, let Gibo fall flat on his face so that Bomba may have room to draw his bow," the jungle boy commanded in a tense whisper.
"Gibo will obey," breathed the Indian.
They dared no longer look for fear they themselves would be seen. But they could hear the rustle of the underbrush growing louder and louder as the reptile pushed its way through.
Then there was a cessation of the sounds, as though the monster had stopped to look and listen. Had its suspicion been aroused? Had it sensed the proximity of human enemies?
In the tense silence, it almost seemed as though the creature must hear the hammer-beats of their hearts.
For seconds that seemed hours the adventurers waited. Then the rustling was renewed. The anaconda was coming!
Bomba and Gibo pressed back as far as they could. There was the chance that the creature, intent on its path, might keep looking straight ahead and pass without detecting them. The comparative darkness of the shelter, too, might aid.
The horrid head came into view about twenty feet away, followed by part of the looping, undulating body.
Then came a jagged streak of lightning that filled the hollow under the rock with a ghastly radiance.
In that instant the snake saw them!
With a hideous hiss the creature halted, turned, threw itself into a coil, and upreared its head, preparatory to launching itself upon its prey.
"Down, Gibo!" shouted Bomba.
The Indian obeyed.
Twang! The arrow shot through the air and pierced the reptile's neck. The blow was mortal. It severed the spine and the head sank down on the threshing, floundering mass of coils that beat the ground in the creature's death flurry.
"Gibo can rise," said the jungle boy calmly. "The anaconda is dead."
"Great is Bomba!" chanted the Indian. "In all the jungle there is no heart so brave, no eye so keen, no aim so straight. Bomba has conquered the lord of the jungle! The gods of Gibo's tribe be praised."
How far the gods of Gibo's tribe had been concerned in the transaction did not greatly interest the jungle boy. His eyes were bent upon the still quivering body of the anaconda.
"It is in Bomba's mind that he and Gibo must leave this place," the lad announced.
"But the storm is fiercer than ever in the jungle," objected the Indian "and the snake can do Bomba and Gibo no more harm. It is dead."
"Gibo speaks truly," returned Bomba. "But the anaconda's mate may be near at hand. And even if it comes not, the smell of blood will bring to the feast the beasts of the jungle. Come. It is time to be going."
They shouldered their packs and abandoned their temporary shelter, carefully avoiding the hideous body sprawled out near the entrance.
"May his tribe be accursed!" said Gibo, and spat.
They bent their heads and again breasted the fury of the storm.
If the traveling had been bad before, it was now vastly worse. The rain had made the ground a sea of mud. The trees that had been felled by the gale had to be climbed over unless the travelers made long detours to skirt the ends.
Roots and branches reached out to trip them up. Vines and creepers, depending from the trees, caught at their throats. The packs on their backs hampered their freedom of action.
Added to the difficulties of the trail was the constant necessity of keeping their eyes and ears alert for any sign of danger from enemies of all kinds. Eternal vigilance was the price of life for all travelers of the jungle. Still they plodded on, hoping that the storm would abate.
But it did not abate. Instead, it grew wilder. The rain still descended in torrents and the gale increased in fury, while the crashing of thunder and the flashing of lightning were almost incessant.
All sense of direction was lost. The absence of sunlight prevented their taking any observations. It was impossible to tell whether they were moving toward their destination or away from it.
There was no sense in journeying under such conditions that only exhausted their strength and, for all they knew, brought them no nearer to their goal.
"The demons of the storm are laughing at us, Master," panted Gibo, "and when they are through with mocking they will throw a tree upon us and send us to the place of the dead."
"Bomba and Gibo are far from being dead," returned the jungle boy. "Yet it is true that we must find some place for rest before our strength is spent."
"It would be well to drop the packs that weigh us down," suggested the Indian. "Then Bomba and Gibo might come the sooner to some place of refuge. They could come back later to find the packs after the storm had died."
A terrific blast of wind shut off Bomba's answer. It caught them both just as they emerged into a small clearing that was bordered by a rushing river.
They strove to keep their feet, but that cyclonic gust lifted them as though they had been leaves and dashed them into the raging torrent!
DOWN into the boiling flood went the jungle boy and his follower, choking, strangling from the sudden immersion.
They rose to the surface, shook the water from their eyes, and struck out for shore.
Both were expert swimmers, but they had been carried out some distance from the bank and the current was running so strongly that it was hard to cut across it. A tumultuous stream at the best of times, the rain had swollen the river until it was running like a mill race. It carried Bomba and Gibo downstream as though they had been chips. They had all they could do to keep their heads above water.
The river was full of logs that tumbled about on its foam, rising and falling in thunderous crashes that threatened instant death to anything they struck.
But Bomba soon became aware that there were other things in that river, resembling logs somewhat, but far more malignant.
Here and there the water broke as huge, scaly, knobbed bodies rose to the surface. The river was swarming with alligators.
Gibo also had seen those ominous shapes and his dark face became a ghastly, yellowish green.
"We are lost, Master!" he gasped.
"Let Gibo keep up heart," panted Bomba. "Bomba still has his knife. Swim harder, Gibo. Faster!"
There was no longer any aimlessness about the movement of those apparent logs of wood. Several of them had located their prey by sight or scent or both and were coming swiftly in the direction of the swimmers.
A little distance below where they then were the river swerved around a point of land that protruded into the water, and toward this the fugitives headed, swimming diagonally across the current. That sandspit offered possible salvation if they could grasp it and drag themselves out. If they were swept past it, their case was hopeless.
But even if it were possible to be driven against it, could they reach it in time?
Bomba cast a quick glance over his shoulder.
No. They could not reach it in time. The nearest of their pursuers was close upon them and coming with enormous speed. Bomba felt for his knife.
While the jungle boy's hand grasps the haft, it may be well for the benefit of those who have not read the preceding volumes of this series to tell who Bomba was and what had been his adventures up to the time this story opens.
Bomba had no recollection of his father or of his mother. His earliest memories went back no further than the time when he had found himself a child in a cabin in the remote depths of the Amazonian jungles with Cody Casson, an old naturalist, as his guardian and only companion.
The jungle had been his home ever since. Not until he was fourteen had he ever seen a white face, except that of Casson. There were tribes of more or less friendly Indians scattered about, but Casson had no dealings with them except occasionally in the interchange of food and skins. They in turn kept aloof from the white man who, they thought, was a magician and, if angered, could lay upon them evil spells.
Casson was kind to Bomba, but he was moody and abstracted and often days passed without his speaking except in monosyllables. Left thus to himself, the lonely boy made friends with the less dangerous folk of the jungles, the birds and the monkeys. He had rare power over animals and he soon became on such intimate terms with them that he talked to them and they in turn chattered back to him. They understood and loved each other.
As Bomba emerged from infancy, Casson roused himself somewhat from his abstraction and taught the boy some of the simpler elements of English, until he learned the rudiments of reading and writing. But the lessons came to an abrupt end one day, when Casson and Bomba, hunting in the jungle, were confronted by a giant anaconda. The reptile advanced to the attack. Casson fired, but the rusty old gun he owned exploded. Some of the flying fragments of the gun wounded the snake, which retreated. But others struck Casson on the head and knocked him senseless.
Bomba drew the stricken man back to the cabin and nursed him back to a degree of physical health. But mentally, Casson was never again the same. The blow had taken away his memory, and from that time on he was half-demented, harmless but almost helpless.
The care of the two devolved on Bomba. He had to do the hunting and fishing and face all the dangers of the jungle. He was much stronger muscularly than most boys of his age, and the wild life inured him to peril of all kinds.
As he grew older, he was possessed of a strong longing to know the secret that shrouded his birth. Even before the accident that had incapacitated Casson, he had often questioned the old naturalist on this point, but Casson had put him off, telling him he was too young to understand and that he would tell him everything later.
Now that Casson's memory was a sealed book, Bomba at times was in despair. He felt the tug of his white blood. He longed for his own race. He knew that he was different from the ignorant natives that surrounded him. He wanted to be with his own people, to take his rightful place in the world.
Casson did his best, and it was pitiful at times to see how he struggled to recall the things that Bomba wanted to know. From momentary flashes of memory that escaped the old man, Bomba gathered that his mother's name had been Laura and that his father's had been Bartow. With these scraps of information, that really meant so little, the lad had to content himself, always hoping that some time Casson's mind would clear.
How Bomba came in contact with two white rubber hunters, Dorn and Gillis, how he saved their camp at night from a horde of jaguars, what perils he met and conquered in the savage jungle, the nerve and skill with which he beat off the attack of the head-hunters when they besieged him and Casson in their lonely cabin, are told in the first book of this series, entitled: "Bomba the Jungle Boy; or, The Old Naturalist's Secret."
In a comparatively lucid moment, Casson told Bomba that, though he himself could not tell the boy what he wanted so desperately to know, there was a certain medicine man, Jojasta of the Moving Mountain, who had the secret of his birth and might reveal it to him.
At imminent risk to life, Bomba battled his way through the jungle and at last found the medicine man, but too late to get the desired information. For Jojasta had been crushed beneath the pillar of a falling temple and could only gasp out that Sobrinini, dwelling beyond the Giant Cataract could tell him of his parents.
Sorely disappointed, but not daunted, Bomba dared more perils in seeking out Sobrinini in her dreadful Island of Snakes. There he encountered things and saw sights that chilled his blood. But Sobrinini was herself half-crazed and was of little help to him. He rescued her from a revolt of her subjects and brought her back to the cabin of Casson, but all he could gather from her babblings was that Japazy, the half-breed tyrant of Jaguar Island, knew all about Bomba's parents, but hated them and would probably kill Bomba himself if he got him in his power.
Nevertheless, Bomba took the risk and, as predicted, came very near to death at the hands of the murderous half-breed. Jaguar Island was overwhelmed with a flood and it was in that flood that Bomba rescued Gibo. Japazy met death in a duel with Bomba, but the jungle boy carried off with him a diary of the tyrant from which he gathered just enough information to whet his appetite for more.
Other exciting adventures in the Valley of the Skulls, on Terror Trail, in the land of the Sacred Crocodiles, and among the cannibals gave Bomba additional shreds of information from which he gradually pieced together a partial story of his birth and parentage.
He learned that his father's name was Andrew Bartow, that his mother was Laura Bartow and that he was their only child. His father was a painter of reputation and his mother a famous opera singer. Both were Americans by birth, but were pursuing their careers in Europe when Bomba—or Bonny, as he was called by them—was born. Sobrinini had been a great singer in the same company as Laura Bartow and the two had been friends. Japazy, an adventurer of mixed blood—partly Greek—had been infatuated with Laura and pursued her with his unwelcome advances.
Laura, accompanied by her husband, had gone with her company to South America to fulfill operatic engagements, taking her infant with her. There the Bartows became acquainted with Cody Casson, at that time a famous naturalist, and a close friendship grew up between them.
Japazy, who had been biding his time and had also gone to South America, kidnaped Bonny—or Bomba, as he afterward came to be called. The frantic parents offered rewards and sought for their child in vain. Later, Casson, pursuing his scientific studies in the jungle, had come upon Japazy, followed him to the cabin where he had hidden the child, knocked the scoundrel senseless, and carried Bomba off into the more remote depths of the jungle, intending to restore him to his parents, but thwarted in that purpose by circumstances that were too strong for him. Japazy had afterward become the ruler of a superstitious tribe on Jaguar Island. Sobrinini, crazed by real or fancied wrongs, had wandered off to the dreadful island where Bomba had finally found her.
But as to where his parents were or even if they still lived, Bomba knew as little as ever. Sobrinini had told him of certain writings she had concealed in a buried chest that might unwrap the last veil of mystery.
How Bomba determined to find that chest, the dreadful perils that beset him in his search, the thrilling adventures in subterranean caverns from which he seemed doomed never to emerge, his finding of the treasures with which he was now hastening back to the maloca of Hondura, are told in the preceding volume of this series, entitled: "Bomba the Jungle Boy on the Underground River."
Now to return to the jungle boy, as, pursued by the alligators in the rushing torrent, he drew his razor-edged knife from its sheath and prepared to sell his life dearly.
One of the fearful brutes was close upon him now. A glance behind revealed the open jaws armed with their terrible rows of teeth, one bite from which would cut his body in two.
With a lightning swerve, Bomba swept to one side, barely averting the rush, raised his knife and drove it with all his force into the alligator's eye on the side near him. The knife, driven with tremendous power, pierced the alligator's brain.
There was a fearful howl from the dreadful throat and the brute pounded the water into foam. Drawing out the knife almost with the speed of light, Bomba dived to escape the lashing of the monster's tail.
Through the water, now rapidly reddening with the life blood of the dying brute, Bomba plowed his way till he rose at the side of Gibo.
"Quick, Gibo!" he panted. "Bomba has killed one, but others are coming. Quick!"
They redoubled their efforts to reach the sandspit, now close at hand. Even then, they would not have succeeded in time had not the other brutes, after their fashion, the same as wolves on land, tarried to tear their dying comrade to pieces.
That few moments of respite proved the salvation of the swimmers.
Bomba reached the projecting spit of land first, caught desperately at a jagged bit of rock, and swung himself ashore. He turned to assist his companion.
Gibo was holding on for dear life, but was too exhausted to drag his weary body from the torrent. And behind him, not twenty feet away, the nearest of his pursuers, who had now resumed their chase, was rushing toward the native.
Bomba snatched an arrow from his pouch, fitted it to the string, and let fly.
Straight into the open jaws the missile sped and lodged in the back of the throat. The monster roared in agony and the teeth came down on the shaft of the arrow, snapping it like thread. But that did not dislodge the head of the arrow, and the great brute floundered about, all else forgotten except that torturing wound.
Like a flash, Bomba dashed to the rock and pulled Gibo to the shore, dragging him far up out of the water's reach.
For the moment they were safe. But only for the moment, for alligators are as much at home on land as in the water and can run with a speed surprising in such clumsy brutes, and Gibo at the moment was in no condition to run. He would have been caught before he had gone twenty yards.
Bomba looked quickly around him. A few yards distant was a great tree, with the lowest branches not too far out of reach. He pulled Gibo to his feet and half-led, half-dragged him to the tree.
"Up, Gibo!" he commanded. "Bomba will help. Quick!"
Left to himself, the exhausted man could never have made it. But Bomba hoisted him as high as he could and pushed with all his might, and Gibo, calling on all that remained to him of strength, was able to reach and throw himself over a bough, where he sat, utterly exhausted.
The alligators now had dispatched the second of their disabled comrades, and two of the huge beasts were crawling up on the shore.
With the celerity of a monkey, Bomba shinned up the tree and seated himself on a branch adjoining that on which Gibo was perched.
Then only did he dare to draw a long breath. His lungs were laboring with his tremendous exertions. Every muscle was as sore as though he had been beaten. But his heart was singing with the joy of combat and of triumph. Nor was his satisfaction lessened at the sight of his baffled adversaries, bellowing with rage as they ran about the tree, reaching up at times in a vain effort to get at the prey that had so narrowly escaped them.
Yielding at last to the inevitable, the disappointed brutes settled down to a siege of the occupants of the tree, their eyes uplifted, biding their time.
For a long time neither of the beleaguered ones spoke. The reaction was on them, and all they thought of was rest until strength should come back once more to their weary frames.
It was Gibo who at last broke the silence.
"Great is Bomba!" he said, in accents of awe. "There is none so brave as Bomba in all the jungle. He has saved Gibo from the jaws of the alligators."
"The alligators are still here," returned Bomba, gazing with a frown at the watchful foes beneath the tree. "It is In Bomba's mind that—"
A blood-curdling growl cut the sentence short. They looked up.
Coming toward them along a heavy bough, ears laid back, teeth showing, was a great puma, the deadliest of the wild beasts of the jungle!
A POSITION more terrible than that of the two adventurers could scarcely be imagined. Beneath the tree were the hideous alligators waiting for their prey. In the tree was the giant puma advancing along the bough, lashing his tail while a deep growl came from the cavernous throat.
It was death to drop from the tree. Death seemed equally certain if they stayed there.
An exclamation of terror came from Gibo, whose spear had been lost when he was blown into the river, leaving him wholly unarmed.
"We are lost, Master!" he groaned. "Bomba and Gibo are going to the place of the dead."
"Silence, Gibo," commanded Bomba sharply, as he darted a quick glance around him.
If there had been another tree close at hand, he and Gibo could have swung to it and escaped the puma's onslaught. The feat would have meant nothing to these hardy sons of the jungle, who often, when the trail was impassable, had swung for a mile at a time through the tree tops. But the forest had thinned as it neared the river bank and the nearest tree to the one they were in was fully thirty feet away.
The puma paused for a moment when he caught sight of the alligators below. They were rivals, and redoubtable rivals, for the feast of man meat. The puma might kill his prey in the tree, but it would be awkward to devour it there. Yet if he leaped with it to the ground, he would have enemies to deal with on whose leathern hides his claws and teeth could make slight impression.
But that problem could wait. The immediate need was to kill these intruders into the tree that he had made peculiarly his own. After a moment the beast resumed that slow, ominous pacing, as relentless as doom.
Bomba unslung his bow and drew an arrow from his pouch. He was hampered in his aim in more ways than one. In the position he was in he could not draw his bow to his shoulder; the twigs and branches grew so thickly between him and his enemy that they were likely to intercept the arrow and divert it from its mark; the waving foliage also made it impossible to select a vital spot.
Now the brute was not more than ten feet away. He halted, flattened his body to the bough and measured the distance for his spring.
At that instant Bomba shot.
The arrow struck the puma at the top of the right foreleg. The shock threw the beast off balance, and with a frightful roar he lost his grip and fell off the bough, clinging to it only with the unwounded foreleg. He made tremendous efforts to draw himself up again, but was hampered by the useless leg.
Bomba drew his knife, darted out on the limb, and slashed at the clinging paw.
With a despairing howl the brute let go and went hurtling through the branches, clawing wildly as he dropped, and fell right into the open jaws of one of the alligators.
A fearful snarling ensued as the puma tore at the body of his foe with hind claws and tried to bite into the scaly hide. But those fearful jaws clamped shut until the teeth met through hide and flesh and bone, and in a few moments the puma's struggle ceased.
Now another battle ensued as another alligator sought to snatch the carcass from his comrade. There was a furious battle until the assailant drew off, defeated. The victor seized the body of the puma and plunged into the river to devour it in his haunt, and the vanquished, still hoping perhaps to get some shreds from the banquet, floundered in after.
In the excitement of the fight, the fugitives in the tree seemed to have been forgotten. But remembrance of them might come back at any moment and Bomba seized the opportunity.
"Quick, Gibo!" he directed. "Follow Bomba."
In a twinkling the jungle boy slid to the ground. Gibo was close after him, and together they hastened into the jungle, eager to put as much space as possible between them and that swarming river.
The hurricane had by this time spent its force. The rain, too, had ceased to fall. But darkness was coming fast, and the adventurers could travel little farther that day.
Nothing would have been more welcome at the moment than a cave in which they might pass the night. But no such shelter came into view and they had to resign themselves to passing the night in the open.
They selected a heavy thorn thicket into which no wild beast was apt to force its way. If it should try to, its progress would be slow and painful and give ample warning to those within. Into this they worked their way with caution, receiving many scratches in the process.
Once in its protecting center, they unburdened themselves of their heavy packs and settled themselves for the night. The ground was sodden from the heavy rain, but this mattered little to them, used as they were to all extremes of weather. Whatever discomfort they felt was overbalanced by their elation in their escape from the enemies that had sought their life.
They were very hungry, for in the wild welter of the tempest they had not thought of food and had had nothing to eat since morning.
"Let us eat, Gibo," directed Bomba.
"Yes, Master," agreed Gibo readily, and felt in his pouch for the scanty supply of cured meat that they carried with them. A look of consternation came over his dark face.
"It is gone, Master!" he wailed. "It must have been washed from the pouch when Bomba and Gibo were swimming the river."
"That is bad," replied the jungle boy soberly, for the gnawing of hunger was intense. "In the morning Bomba's arrow will sing and we shall have food."
The stern philosophy of the jungle was theirs, and they wasted no time in idle regrets. They curled up in their close retreat and slept soundly, yet with their subconscious minds on guard so that the slightest alarming sound would waken them.
At the first streak of dawn they were awake. They slaked their thirst at a tiny stream near by, shouldered their packs and set out for the maloca of Hondura.
What trails there were had been almost obliterated by the masses of fallen trees that had been prostrated by the storm of the day before. But the sun was rising now and by its aid Bomba had no difficulty in laying a straight course for his destination.
But the primary need was for food, and they kept a sharp lookout on all sides for game. It was not, however, until after an hour of traveling that they came to a fringe of trees beyond which lay a clearing reaching to a small river. There on the bank Bomba detected a tapir, grazing with its back toward him.
It was a long shot for bow and arrow, possibly too long to be effective. Yet if Bomba ventured beyond the fringe of trees, he would almost certainly be seen by the animal that would instantly take refuge in the river and, walking under water along its bed, defy detection. The same flight would be taken, if it were only wounded. The first arrow would have to tell the story.
It must be chanced. Bomba wet his finger and held it up to get the force and direction of the wind. Then he fitted an arrow to his bow.
"It is too far, Master," judged Gibo. "Bomba's arm is strong, but the arrow will not carry."
"That is a chance I must take," muttered the jungle boy, as he took careful aim.
For some moments he stood rigid, waiting for the beast to turn and present the vital spot the lad was seeking.
It did at last and the bow twanged.
The tapir gave a convulsive leap, rolled over and lay still. The arrow had pierced its heart.
Gibo gave an exultant cry and ran toward the motionless form, with Bomba following more leisurely.
Here was food and in plenty. But their loads were already heavy, and after skinning the brute in part they selected only the choicest portions.
Part of this they ate until their hunger was fully satisfied. Another portion they partially cured over the small fire they kindled and stored enough in their pouches to last out their journey.
Immensely strengthened and refreshed, they resumed their travel and in the course of the day made heartening progress, considering the difficulties in their way. Not enough, however, to reach their goal before darkness should set in. They must spend still another night in the jungle.
During the last hour left of daylight Bomba showed an unusual interest in the trail. Again and again he stooped over to study it more closely and several times dropped on his hands and knees.
"What is it that Bomba sees?" Gibo at length asked curiously.
"Bomba sees things that are not pleasant to his eyes," returned the lad. "Let Gibo look at this and tell Bomba what it says to Gibo."
He pointed to the mark of a man's foot in the path. The print had been made when the ground was wet and was now outlined by a crust of sunbaked clay.
Gibo examined it with growing apprehension. While to an outsider all footprints made by bare feet look very much alike, yet there were differences that could be descried by one versed in the lore of the jungle.
"Does Gibo know the footprint?" asked Bomba.
"It is a strange mark," replied the Indian. "It was not made by one of any tribe that Gibo knows."
"That is also in the mind of Bomba," replied the jungle boy. "It is the footprint of one who comes from afar."
There was silence for a moment.
"Has Gibo ever seen the print made by one of the tribe of head-hunters?" queried Bomba.
The Indian shuddered. That dread name had an awful meaning in the jungle. It carried with it the thought of fire and blood. Native mothers used it as a threat to control wayward children.
"No, Master," Gibo replied. "The head-hunters have not come near the tribe of Gibo, the gods be praised."
"They have been near the cabin of Bomba," replied the jungle boy. "They sought his life and Casson's. That was a long time ago, but Bomba thinks that this print is that of a warrior of the head-hunters who dwell near the Giant Cataract."
Bomba made a wide circuit, examining every inch of ground within its radius.
"There are more footprints than one," he announced. "More than ten. More than twenty. There are many of the same tribe that have passed this way. The marks point in the direction that Gibo and Bomba are going."
Their hearts were heavy as they thought of what this might portend.
The head-hunters! The most savage and bloodthirsty of all the human dwellers in the jungle! The fiends who made forays from time to time among the peaceful tribes to secure heads that they could place upon their huts as evidence of their prowess!
Bomba stooped down and crumbled in his hands some of the clay about the footprints. The outer crust was dry, but the inner part was still brown and damp, showing that the footprints were more recent than he had at first supposed.
He straightened up and looked at his companion.
"The mark is fresh," he said gravely. "It is not two hours since the strange people passed this way."
"Then the men of evil are not far ahead of us!" exclaimed Gibo, in consternation. "Let us turn back, Master, while there is yet time."
"No, Gibo, we go forward," declared the jungle boy.
"But they are many and we are but two," expostulated Gibo. "What can Bomba and Gibo do against so many warriors? They would cut us down with their spears and slay us with their arrows."
"The cunning of the fox is stronger than the teeth of the jaguar," replied his leader. "Gibo and Bomba will go forward."
There was that in the tone of his voice and the set of his jaw that forbade further argument, and Gibo submitted, though with fear and trembling.
GIBO was no coward. In anything like an equal combat he was brave, a fact that he had proved repeatedly. But against anything that savored of foolhardiness he inwardly rebelled, even when he outwardly acquiesced. And if anything was more foolhardy than for two men to hasten toward a bloodthirsty horde of savages instead of away from them, Gibo would have liked to be told what it was.
Still, Bomba was Bomba, and Gibo had so often seen him wrest victory from what looked like certain defeat that he tried to subdue his perturbation as he followed close on the heels of his leader.
They pressed forward now with speed but great caution, for they did not know but what sentries had been posted for the very purpose of warning of pursuit.
But the night settled down over them without any ocular evidence except the footprints that there were others besides themselves in the jungle.
Bomba selected a secluded spot some distance to the side of the trail and called a halt.
"We will eat, Gibo," said Bomba, as he laid aside his heavy burden.
They did not dare light a fire, but ate heartily of the partly cured meat of the tapir.
No words were spoken. Bomba was deep in contemplation. Gibo had relaxed, comforting himself with the thought that a night of peace lay before him, regardless of what might come on the morrow.
It was with consternation, therefore, that the faithful Indian saw Bomba rise from the meal, look to his bow, count his arrows, and test the edge of his knife, evidently preparing for departure.
"What is it that is in the mind of Bomba?" asked Gibo.
"Bomba goes to hunt out the camp of the strangers," replied the jungle boy.
"But it is madness, Master!" cried Gibo.
"Bomba goes, but Gibo will stay here," was the calm reply.
"No, Master!" exclaimed the native, rising. "If Bomba goes to his death, Gibo will go with him. Gibo will live and die with Bomba."
"Gibo speaks good words," replied the jungle boy, touched by the evidence of devotion. "But Gibo will stay here. Let Gibo listen to the words of Bomba and store them in his heart. If the strangers are head-hunters, as Bomba thinks, they are on their way to the maloca of Hondura, the good chief who is Bomba's friend. Casson is there, too, and Pipina, the squaw who has cared for Casson, and little Pirah. The head-hunters will try to slay them all and take their heads. This must not be.
"If Bomba finds that the strangers are head-hunters, he must hasten and let Hondura know they are coming, so that the warriors of the Araos may get ready to fight. If the strange people have peace in their hearts, all will be well. But Bomba must know. He goes alone, because he must creep like the snake and one is better than two."
"But if Bomba should be killed!" wailed Gibo.
"Gibo will wait here until the night is half gone," pursued the jungle boy. "If Bomba is not back then, Gibo will know that Bomba has been captured or has gone to the place of the dead. Then must Gibo make all haste and journey through the jungle by night until he reaches the maloca of the Araos and tell Hondura that the head-hunters are coming. There is no need for more words. Bomba goes."
He vanished like a ghost into the recesses of the jungle. One moment he had been there; the next he was gone, and that so swiftly and silently that Gibo, though he strained his ears, could not hear the slightest sound that betokened his passing.
Almost as rapidly as though it had been day, Bomba pressed on in the direction the invaders had taken. He no longer had the footprints to guide him, but his sense of direction was so keen that he kept his course without difficulty.
He had progressed for about an hour when he stopped and sniffed the air. His long experience in the jungle had made his nostrils as sensitive as those of a hound.
He smelled smoke. There was as yet no sign of fire. But he smelled smoke, faint but undeniable. The odor came from directly in front of him, and he kept on in his chosen course, moving swiftly, yet with redoubled caution.
Before long he caught sight of a flickering light through the thick underbrush. Instantly he dropped to hands and knees. Now was the time to adopt the tactics of the snake.
None of the snakes could have been more wary or more silent than Bomba as he wormed his way along in the direction of the light, which he knew was not that of torches but of a campfire.
What would the light from that fire reveal to him? A gathering of a peaceful tribe out on a hunting expedition and thinking of nothing but four-footed game? Or a band of savages far more grim, hunters, too, but looking for human quarry?
Foot by foot, inch by inch, Bomba crept along, avoiding any twig that could snap, any leaf that could rustle and betray his approach. Soon he made out a large number of shadowy figures, some passing to and fro as they added fuel to the fire or went about preparations for a meal, others sprawling on the grass or squatting with their backs against the trunks of trees.
He chose the thickest of the heavy bushes that fringed the temporary camp, flattened himself close to the ground and peered through.
One glance served to dispel all his doubts and send a chill through his veins. Here was no peaceful hunting party. Here were head-hunters, the scourges of the jungle!
There was no mistaking them. He knew them by the savage emblem of the tribe daubed on their breasts in glaring colors. He knew them by their brutish, ferocious faces. He knew them by their stature, taller than that of other Amazonian jungle tribes. And if the slightest doubt had remained, it would have been dispelled by the human heads that dangled from the belts of many of them, heads of men, of women, of children, some of them dried, one of them from which the blood was still dripping, that of some harmless Indian that had crossed their path that day.
The sight sickened Bomba, and with the nausea was blended a fierce rage against such fiends in human shape.
At a little distance, gathered together as though for conference, he saw a group of three who, from their gaudy finery and distinctive symbols, he knew were figures of importance. Probably, Bomba conjectured, the chief of the party and two of his aids.
He could not see their faces from where he was, for they were bent over in animated conversation. Nor could he hear anything of what they were saying. Only an unintelligible murmur of their voices came to him. He must get nearer. With that group rested leadership and power. From them only could Bomba learn the real purposes of the expedition.
He withdrew noiselessly and crept stealthily about the camp. At every instant he was in the direst danger. A savage, wandering outside the zone of light to gather fuel for the fire, might stumble upon him and give the alarm.
But the jungle boy felt no fear. The savage would never utter another alarm, and before the camp could set itself in motion and start in pursuit he would have drifted away into the shadows of the jungle, and neither the swiftness of the hare nor the cunning of the fox could catch him.
Slowly, noiselessly, he drew near the spot where the trio were conferring. In the depths of a bush directly behind them he ensconced himself and covered himself with leaves, so that a sudden flare-up of the fire would reveal nothing but apparently leaf-strewn ground.
Then for the first time he could see the faces of the three. A thrill ran through him as he saw the disfigured countenance of the one who, from the deference the others paid him, was evidently the chief of the band.
Nascanora! The chief of the head-hunters who dwelt near the Giant Cataract! The man whose name sent terror through the jungle!
He was a man of gigantic build and height, towering far above all his warriors. The face was haughty and cruel. In a savage way it would have been handsome had it not been marred by a broken nose.
That broken nose, smeared almost flat upon his face, he owed to Bomba. The blow that had crushed it had been dealt on that memorable occasion when the jungle boy, leading the captives he had rescued from the head-hunters' prison camp, had met the chief hurrying to the scene and had caved in his face with a blow from the heavy haft of his machete, knocking him senseless.
Why had he not killed him then? Bomba wondered, as he watched his sworn enemy who so richly deserved death. Why had he yielded to the magnanimity that forbade him to slay a helpless foe? How many innocent lives would have been spared, what agony and tears would have been saved, if he had ended the brute then and there!
But he stilled his memories of that fierce fight, for Nascanora was speaking.
"All things go well," he was saying in his harsh, guttural tones. "Tomorrow we will take the heads of the people of Hondura."
Bomba's heart sank. It was, then, as he had feared. The war party was headed for the maloca of the friendly chief of the Araos.
And in that maloca were Casson and Pipina and Pirah, the latter the little daughter of Hondura, who looked on Bomba as a big brother.
"It is well," pronounced another of the group, whom Bomba recognized as Ruspak, the wily medicine man of the head-hunters. "Ruspak has made incantations to the gods and the signs are good. But not for tomorrow nor the next day. On the third day we must attack, and the gods will give us victory."
"Provided that the scouts of the Araos do not discover the coming of our people," put in Tocarora, the half-brother of Nascanora and assistant chief of the tribe.
"They have no thought of danger," Nascanora assured him. "Nascanora's own scouts have returned and told him that many of the Araos braves are out hunting and that there are no walls or thorn fences to defend the maloca."
"Is Bomba there, the accursed jungle boy?" asked Ruspak, his eyes glowing with malignity.
"It is not known," replied Nascanora, his brow becoming a thunder cloud. "The scouts of Nascanora could not get near enough to make sure. Yet he is probably there. It would be of little worth to Nascanora to slay all the tribe of the Araos if Bomba should escape."
His hands clenched till the nails dug into the palms.
"He shall die!" he cried ferociously. "He shall die such a death as none in the jungle has known before. He will be a long time in dying. His screams will be music in the ears of Nascanora. Nascanora will laugh and dance and thank his gods. And when he is dead his head shall be on Nascanora's wigwam, where Nascanora can mock at it every day."
It was not an alluring program for the unseen listener, especially as Bomba knew that it would be carried out in every detail if he should ever fall into Nascanora's hands.
Bomba's fingers felt involuntarily for his knife. Nothing would have given him greater delight, if it had been a case of man to man, or, more correctly, boy to man, than to have leaped out and faced the chief of the head-hunters.
But, under the circumstances, that would have been simple suicide. He composed himself again to listen.
"There will be plenty of heads this time to take back to the home of the tribe," gloated Ruspak. "The squaws will come out to greet the warriors with dancing and singing and there will be a great feast."
"Yes, there are many heads in the maloca of Hondura," agreed Tocarora, licking his lips in anticipation. "But it grieves Tocarora that the warriors cannot carry back also the heads of the other people who came down in the great white bird from the sky, the man who is tall, the man who is short, and the man who paints strange pictures."
Bomba pricked up his ears. What was the meaning of this? Who were these strange visitors to the jungle that had been so peculiarly described?
"The great white bird from the sky!" He could guess what that meant. He recalled the time of that wild ride he himself had once had in an airplane in the land of the cannibals. It was the only plane he had ever seen. But now it was evident that another of the great birds had been hovering over the jungle and had come down, either voluntarily or because it was forced to descend.
"The man who is tall, the man who is short, and the man who paints strange pictures!" The description meant nothing to him. Spiro, Ramon, Carlos, the aviators of the first plane, did not conform to it physically. And he had never heard them say anything about painting pictures.
"They cannot get far," declared Nascanora confidently. "Their bird is dead and they know nothing of the jungle. Nascanora will search for them when he has taken the heads of the people of Hondura."
"They have sticks that shoot fire," observed Ruspak dubiously.
"And the warriors of Nascanora have bows that shoot arrows," boasted the chief. "They are few and we are many. There will be three more heads for the roofs of Nascanora's people, and they will be the heads of white men, who despise the natives of the jungle."
White men! Bomba felt the tug of the blood. He, too, was white. These wanderers were his brothers. He must warn them, save them if possible.
But the most pressing thing just now was the threatened attack on Hondura's tribe. That was to take place on the third day from then. The time was getting fearfully short. He must get to the maloca before the head-hunters reached it. There would be much to do, hunting parties to be called in, defenses erected and aid summoned from other friendly tribes.
Their meal was ready now and the conference broke up. There was nothing more to learn from staying, and every moment was precious.
Bomba backed his way out of the screening bush, creeping on hands and knees for a long distance before he considered it safe to rise to his feet.
Then with all possible speed he made for the spot where he had left his faithful follower. A glance at the stars told him that it was later than he had thought. He must hasten! Before long he reached the place that had been chosen for his encampment. Everything was silent.
"Gibo sleeps," muttered the jungle boy to himself. "It is well, for he will have no more sleep this night." He felt about him for the body of the native. "Gibo!" he called softly. "Gibo! It is Bomba who calls."
No answer. He called again, this time more loudly. Still no answer. Gibo was gone!
ALARM seized Bomba as his repeated calls to Gibo brought no response.
He knew that an answer would have come if the native had been within hearing. Had the faithful fellow, despite the injunction placed upon him, determined to follow in his master's footsteps, wanting to be at hand to aid in time of need?
Bomba dismissed this thought as soon as it came to him. Gibo would not have dreamed of disobeying him. To him Bomba's word was law. Where then was Gibo?
An arrow that whistled by close to his head suggested the answer. Instantly Bomba dropped to the ground and wormed his way into the underbrush. Other arrows followed, but, fired as they were at random and in the dark, they failed to find their mark.
Bomba, as he looked behind, could now see the flare of torches that lighted up wild, dusky faces.
He guessed at once that it was his calling of Gibo that had put his assailants on his track. They had not been able to see him, but had shot in the direction of the sound, hoping that some of the missiles would reach their target or at least provoke a response that would show his location.
He saw the waving of the torches as his enemies beat the bushes. If it had not been for his soreness of heart on account of Gibo, the jungle boy could have laughed. Thinking to catch Bomba at night in the jungle!
Once at a definite distance, he rose to his feet and with incredible celerity made a wide circle so as to get to the rear of his pursuers. At times he left the ground altogether and swung himself from tree to tree by the tough vines that hung down from them in clusters. They might follow his footprints on the ground, but they could not trace his progress through the air.
Confident that he had completely confused his pursuers, he swung himself up into a great tree, where he was wholly concealed from his enemies.
Now he thought that he understood the disappearance of Gibo. He had probably been surprised, pounced upon and captured by the very men who were now searching for Bomba himself.
The band was probably a detachment of Nascanora's braves who had been sent away from the main body on a scouting expedition and, on their way back to camp, had come across Gibo.
His conviction was confirmed a little later when the baffled and disgruntled pursuers straggled back from the chase and gathered in a group beneath the very tree in which he was hiding. By the light of the torches Bomba could see, daubed on their breasts, the symbols of the tribe of Nascanora.
His eyes searched the group rapidly for any sign of the prisoner, but Gibo was not there.
A chill of dread ran through Bomba's veins. Had they already killed their captive?
All the dialects of the jungle were known to Bomba, and he had no difficulty in understanding the words that floated up to him, especially as the men were excited and made no attempt to moderate their voices.
"Nascanora will be angry when he learns that we failed to capture the man who called out in the darkness," said one who seemed to be the leader of the detachment. "And Nascanora is terrible in his wrath. His voice is thunder and his eyes shoot lightnings. His hand is ready with the spear."
"Why need Matura tell him?" suggested one of the group. "If our tongues keep silent Nascanora will not know that we heard the man calling."
"Nascanora will rejoice over the prisoner we have sent him," put in another. "In his gladness of heart over this he will be content."
So that was it, thought Bomba. Gibo had already been sent in advance under guard to Nascanora. He drew a sigh of relief. Gibo still lived, and while there was life there was hope. But how long would there be life in poor Gibo's body after he fell into the cruel hands of Nascanora?
"The man was dumb," mused another. "He could not speak when we asked him whether there were any others traveling with him."
Faithful Gibo, thought Bomba. He would not betray his master.
"He could speak, but he would not," declared another.
"Nascanora will find ways to make him speak," said Matura, and there was a burst of laughter that was a tribute to the fiendish cruelty and ingenuity of the chief.
Bomba's blood boiled. But in absolute silence rested the only hope of safety, not only for himself but also Gibo.
Matura seemed uneasy. It was evident that he stood in great dread of Nascanora. He might keep quiet about the escape of Bomba, but what assurance had he that some of his band, when indulging too freely in the native wine, might not babble?
"It would perhaps be well to look once more for the man who called," he suggested, but without much conviction.
"It is useless," said one of the men sullenly. "It was not a man but a demon of the jungle, else he could not have vanished so quickly. It is not well to chase demons."
There was a chorus of assent from his superstitious comrades, and Matura did not press the matter further.
In single file they departed from under the tree, and Bomba followed with his eyes the bobbing line of torches as the men took up the march to the camp of Nascanora.
When they were at a safe distance the jungle boy slid down from the tree. There was no doubt or hesitation in his movements. His course of action lay clear before him. Gibo was a captive. Gibo must be rescued.
How this was to be done the jungle boy did not know. He faced tremendous odds. But he had faced odds before and conquered. Courage was in his blood. Determination was in his heart. The first thing to do was to reach the camp of Nascanora where Gibo was held. Once there, he would be guided by circumstances.
Girding his belt more tightly about him, he set out in the wake of that dancing line of torches.
But he did not follow them long. There was always the chance that Matura might station some of his men in ambush along the trail, on the bare possibility that the fugitive they had been chasing might ultimately head in that direction. So he diverged widely from the route and made for the camp from a different angle.
The moon had risen, and though its light could not penetrate deeply into the thick jungle, it yet made the chance of detection more likely if the jungle boy should have to cross one of the occasional spots where the trees thinned out.
As he approached such a spot when he had nearly reached the camp of his enemies his quick ear caught the sound of footsteps coming in his direction from a little distance ahead. Instantly Bomba threw himself flat on the ground, his ears strained, his eyes alert.
He could tell from the sound that the man, whoever he was, was alone. That made it easier. There was no single man living from whom Bomba would shrink in combat.
He saw a shadow making its way through the underbrush that, as it came nearer, resolved itself into the figure of a man.
The figure stepped into the little clearing and a ray of moonlight fell upon the face. Bomba gave a start. It was Ruspak, the villainous medicine man of the head-hunters, quite as malignant and ferocious as Nascanora himself and far more shrewd and cunning.
He had withdrawn into the jungle, Bomba surmised, to carry out his incantations. It was thus that he maintained his power over the superstitious people of his tribe. He began to make a little pile of stones and broke out into wild mutterings.
Bomba thought quickly. If he could capture the medicine man, he would have a valuable hostage in his hands. He might bargain to exchange him for Gibo. He knew that the tribe from Nascanora down would do anything to get the medicine man back, for on his intercession depended their favor with the gods. He might even force them to give up their threatened attack against the maloca of Hondura and return to their faraway home.
Bomba rose stealthily to his feet, drew his knife and approached the edge of the clearing. He did not mean to use the knife except in the last extremity, for he figured that Ruspak alive would be worth more to him than Ruspak dead. The back of Ruspak was toward him. Bomba crouched for a spring and leaped forward.
As he did so his foot caught in a root and he was thrown headlong to the ground, the knife being knocked from his hand and falling several yards away.
Ruspak whirled at the sound of the fall and drew his own knife from his belt. He saw the prostrate figure and rushed upon it with a snarl.
In a flash, Bomba sprang to his feet. But he had no time to recover his knife. Ruspak was upon him and the two closed in a terrific impact.
Back and forth the jungle boy and the medicine man swayed in deadly combat. The long knife, one thrust from which, if it were driven home, would decide the combat, was in the hand of Ruspak.
But the sinewy hand of the jungle boy shot out and grasped the right wrist of Ruspak and held it down tightly at his side. The medicine man strove madly to break that iron grip, but to no avail.
Back and forth they wrestled, knocking against trees, stumbling over rocks, falling and rising again as one. There was no sound from either, except the padding of their sandaled feet and grunts forced from laboring lungs.
At the beginning of the struggle, Bomba was handicapped by the result of his fall that had knocked most of the breath out of him. Ruspak, on the contrary, had full possession of his strength. In addition, he had his knife.
If each had had both hands free and neither had been armed, the jungle boy's superior agility and strength would have terminated the struggle quickly. But with one hand holding the knife hand of his adversary, he had only one free for offensive operations. The same, of course, was true of his opponent, and it looked as though the issue of the combat would depend on which one first became exhausted.
But enemies might come on the scene at any moment, and Bomba could not afford to wait. He resorted to strategy. With a lightning-quick motion, he released Ruspak's knife hand and stepped back.
Ruspak uttered a cry of triumph and lunged.
Bomba dodged the stroke and sprang like a puma onto the medicine man's chest.
Ruspak went down like a log, his knife flying from his hand. Bomba went down on top of him. His hands gripped the medicine man's throat.
To the jungle boy's surprise, there was no resistance.
A horrible gleam leaped into the eyes of Ruspak. It was like the brief sputtering up of a candle flame before it goes out. Almost instantly a glazing film banished all expression from the eyes. The body relaxed, the head fell back.
Bomba had seen death too often not to recognize it. Ruspak was dead!
As the jungle boy rose to his feet he saw what had killed Ruspak. In falling, the medicine man had struck his head against a rock with tremendous force and the blow had crushed the skull.
There would be no hostage to exchange for Gibo!
Bomba would have preferred to take the medicine man alive, but he wasted no time in regrets. He found his knife and restored it to his belt. He had turned to vanish in the heavy jungle growths when something made him pause. He stood in the shadows with head uplifted, nostrils dilated, absolutely motionless, listening.
He had heard no sound; he had seen nothing; yet he knew with all the certainty of the jungle-bred that danger was close to him.
Like a ghost he slipped from the scene of his encounter with Ruspak, making no sound, no rustle of a leaf or cracking of a twig marking his passage.
He had gone but a few yards before he saw shadowy forms approaching. Up a tree he went like a cat and as noiselessly. From where he was in the foliage he had a good view of the clearing, now bright with moonlight.
A savage had come from the fringe of the woods. A moment later he was joined by another. They approached the spot of the recent combat and bent curiously over the prostrate body. To their consternation they saw that it was that of their medicine man.
There were excited exclamations. One of the men dropped to his knees and examined the body to see if any spark of life remained. Then he rose, lamenting.
"He who makes magic is dead," he wailed. "The spirit has departed from Ruspak, the great medicine man of our tribe. Now will evil descend upon the people of Nascanora!"
They fled as though possessed to carry the dread news to their chief.
A few minutes later there was a great tumult and the pounding of many feet. At the head of the horde was Nascanora and close beside him his half-brother, Tocarora.
Bomba heard the savage cry of Nascanora as the chief bent over the lifeless body of Ruspak. The cry was echoed by Tocarora and taken up and repeated by the braves until the jungle rang with the wild wailing.
It was not for Ruspak personally that they lamented. He was both hated and dreaded by the people who had suffered under his greed and exactions. But his office had clothed him with a mantle of awe. He could bring upon them the favor or disfavor of the gods at will. Now there was no medicine man, no mediator with the gods. Lacking this, what plagues might come upon their people, what pests upon their cattle, what blight and mildew upon their crops? And how few would now be the heads that they could stick upon their huts?
The thought that his death might have come from an accidental fall against the rock that had crushed it was soon dispelled. There were too many signs of struggle. There, too, was the dead man's knife some distance away from the body. No, Ruspak had not died by accident. There had been a fight and some one had killed him.
Bomba heard the harsh, fierce voice of Nascanora.
"He who killed our man of magic shall die!" he cried. "He shall die by torture, by the fire, and the boiling pot."
A shout of approval greeted the threat. Into this chorus the voice of Tocarora broke gratingly:
"If we do not find the killer, my brother, what then?"
There was a moment's silence upon which the voice of Nascanora fell like the tolling of a death knell:
"Nascanora holds a prisoner. He shall take the killer's place. Him we will give to the boiling pot or roast over the leaping flame. Nascanora has spoken."
A THRILL of terror, not for himself but for Gibo, ran along Bomba's spine, for he was sure that it was of Gibo the head-hunters were speaking. The chief had spoken of one captive. Prisoners did not live long in the hands of Nascanora. He was too eager to take their heads. Gibo, the last one captured, was probably the only survivor.
What a hideous fate was promised for Bomba's faithful follower!
Then he heard an order given by Nascanora that made the blood drum in his ears. The chief turned to two of his tribesmen.
"String the prisoner up by his wrists to the limb of a tree and smear his feet with honey," Nascanora directed. "The ants will feast; the bees also. Let him stay there till his feet are stripped of flesh to the bone. Then take him down and hold him for the other things that Nascanora has in mind for him."
Honey! The scent of it would draw the bees and ants in swarms. Gibo would be bit and stung in a hundred places. Then, with the honey devoured, the voracious ants would attack the flesh and eat it from the bones. The horrible agony of it would be inconceivable. Bomba had seen the ants of the Amazonian jungle attack the body of an animal and in a few minutes leave nothing of it but the skeleton.
"Send to Nascanora all the braves in the camp," the chief commanded. "He will need them all to beat the jungle for the killer of Ruspak. Guard well the prisoner until Nascanora returns, or your lives shall pay."
The men bowed to the ground and hurried back to the camp, whence presently came other braves as the chief had commanded.
Nascanora in person headed one band of hunters, assigning the command of the other to Tocarora. His orders were that, starting out in opposite directions, the forces should gradually describe a semicircle till they should meet. If the trail of the fugitive was found, it was to be announced at once by shouts and all would combine in running him down or routing him out of his hiding place.
Nothing could better have suited Bomba. It was a bit of unexpected good fortune to have the camp of Nascanora practically deserted, if only for a time.
Bomba knew that the first principle of strategy was to be where an enemy did not expect one to be. That any one would have the audacity actually to approach his camp instead of running away from it after the killing of the medicine man would be inconceivable to the savage mind of Nascanora. The chief was perfectly sure that the hunted man, whoever he might prove to be, was putting as much distance between him and the head-hunters' camp as possible. Bomba hoped that Nascanora would go on believing it.
The jungle boy watched the braves slip off in different directions into the jungle. Not till the last sound had died away did he stir from his immobile posture.
Then he rose from the crotch of the branch, but instead of sliding to the ground climbed still higher into the trees. For keen eyes would be searching every yard of the ground for footprints. Therefore, there should be no footprints.
The trees grew thickly all along the line that led in the direction of the camp. In most places their upper branches touched and intermingled. Even in cases where they did not, the space between was not so great that it could not be leaped over. The monkeys were doing it continually, and there were few things a monkey could do that Bomba, the jungle boy, could not equal.
He moved along with exceeding swiftness, swinging himself from branch to branch. The thick foliage screened him from the observation of anybody on the ground. The rustling of the branches, if heard at all, would be attributed to monkeys.
There was every possibility that he himself might be caught in Nascanora's grip; that instead of rescuing Gibo he might be forced to share his fate. But the knowledge did not for a moment make him falter or turn him from his purpose.
Before long he caught glimpses of the fire in the camp of Nascanora. Now he moved with redoubled caution until he reached a tree directly above a group of four savages who were discussing something, gathered about an object that Bomba could not for the moment see.
He had hoped to find there only the two whom Nascanora had sent back to guard the prisoner. It was an unpleasant surprise to find that the number had been doubled. Doubtless Nascanora had been a trifle uneasy about stripping his camp of too many warriors and had sent back these additional men as a precaution.
The savage group gave back a little and Bomba saw the object over which they had been bending.
Gibo's hands and feet were bound and he had been thrown down in a heap at the foot of the tree.
Bomba's heart swelled as he saw the marks of beatings on Gibo's face and body. His hair was matted with blood from a wound in the scalp. He had evidently put up a hard fight before he had been overwhelmed by the power of numbers.
One of his captors yanked him brutally to his feet while another pricked him cruelly with the point of his spear.
Gibo flinched from the pain, but he did not cry out. He would not give his captors that satisfaction. He did not know just what tortures were in store for him, but it was with a stoicism which made Bomba proud of him that he nerved himself to meet the inevitable.
A rope was produced and tied to the one that already held Gibo's wrists together. The end was thrown over a low-lying bough and the unfortunate man was drawn up until his feet barely touched the ground, the whole weight of his body resting on the tortured wrists.
Then the loose end of the rope was fastened to the tree by one of his captors while another disappeared for a moment. He returned shortly, bearing a bowl of wild honey. Ants already crawled about the rim of the bowl.
The savage seized Gibo's feet and began to smear them with honey. One of the others intervened.
"Would it not be well to wait for the return of Nascanora and the other braves before the sport begins?" he suggested. "They will want to see him dance and hear him scream."
"Iduno has well spoken," replied the other. "It is not in Malota's mind now to do more than let the captive taste some of the torture that lies in wait for him. It will give us some sport now to watch the captive twist and writhe. When we hear Nascanora returning, we will brush off the ants and he will not know."
Iduno looked a little doubtful, but did not press the point. If the chief were angry at the little diversion with which they thought to while away the time, it would be upon Malota's head that his wrath would fall.
It was appalling how soon the honey did its work. In less than no time, it seemed to Bomba, a procession of ants reached the feet of the native, nipping at the honey and the flesh beneath it.
Gibo writhed already, but no cry came from his lips.
The cry of a parrot sounded through the jungle. It was followed by another a moment later. Bomba knew that it was not the cry of a parrot, but a clever imitation. It was a signal!
The four savages looked at each other.
"It is the call of Nascanora," muttered one.
"Two calls," corrected another. "He bids two of us to come to him. And just when the sport is beginning!"
But however keen their disappointment, they knew too much to tarry when their dread chief called, and two of the guards disappeared, grumbling, beyond the zone of light.
Now was the time. Bomba acted like lightning. His bow twanged and the arrow pierced the heart of Iduno. The savage gave a convulsive leap and fell to the ground.
Before the paralyzed Malota could move, Bomba dropped from the tree plump upon his shoulders and bore the head-hunter to the earth. Bomba's knife flashed once. It was enough.
He wiped the dripping blade on the turf and turned to Gibo. On the face of the faithful Indian joy and amazement strove for mastery.
"You have come, my master!" he cried. "Bomba has come to save Gibo from the tortures of Nascanora. Release Gibo quickly, Master, for his feet already burn as with fire."
"It is for that that Bomba has come," replied the jungle boy.
In a trice he severed the rope and the cords on the native's wrists and feet. Gibo staggered about weakly, but Bomba rubbed and pounded him until he had restored the circulation.
"Come, Gibo," said Bomba. "Follow Bomba and do not speak. If we are captured there are two whose feet will be smeared with honey, and after that will be the blazing fire and the boiling pot. Come!"
As they slipped into the darkness beyond the zone of light cast by the fire other parrot calls sounded through the jungle.
There were many this time, and Bomba conjectured that Nascanora was calling all his scattered braves to the spot from which the calls emanated. That spot was off to the left. No doubt all the head-hunters were hurrying now toward it. That meant that it would be unguarded toward the right, and in that direction Bomba led the way, Gibo following like a shadow at his master's heels.
Apprehension added wings to their feet, for at any minute the dead bodies might be found under the tree at the camp and there would be the hue and cry of pursuit.
They came to the banks of a small swiftly running stream. Scores of the ants were still on Gibo's feet and legs, and the Indian welcomed the stream as a boon of the gods. He plunged into it, and the plunge swept his tormentors away.
As Gibo came up again on the bank, Bomba examined the injured feet. They were puffed and bleeding from innumerable bites, but so far the damage done had not been serious.
Bomba plastered them with healing river mud, held in place by bandages made of strips torn from Gibo's tunic.
While this first aid of the jungle was being quickly and deftly administered, Bomba's ear and that of his follower were attuned for the slightest sound, waiting for the howls that would tell them their enemies were in pursuit.
They had not long to wait. A clamor arose that sent its blood-curdling message through the jungle. The head-hunters were upon their track!
Like a flash the fugitives dashed into the stream. Menaced by this deadly peril, Gibo forgot the pain in his feet. The sharp stones on the bed of the stream bit into his swollen flesh, but he was scarcely aware of it.
Fortunately for the two adventurers, the stream was shallow and easily forded. They reached the other side and plunged into the jungle an instant before their enemies appeared on the other bank.
Bomba, had he been alone, would have laughed at them. With such a start, there was no one in the jungle that stood the slightest chance of catching him. But Gibo, weak from his captivity, his tender feet, and the brutality he had undergone, could not keep pace with him, though he tried manfully. Behind them they could hear the savages as they plunged into the stream.
"There is no hope, Master," groaned Gibo. "They are at our heels."
"Faster, Gibo, faster!" Bomba urged him.
He caught his follower by the hand and fairly dragged him along. In his heart he felt that Gibo's prediction was right. The savages were not as fleet of foot as he, but were far fleeter than Gibo in his present condition.
But he would not leave Gibo, though the devoted fellow urged him to do so again and again. Bomba's only reply was a shake of the head and an urging to further speed.
If he were overtaken, he would never fall alive into the hands of Nascanora. He would sell his life dearly and take many of his enemies with him to the realm of death.
Now Bomba realized that the pursuit was spreading out. Some of the Indians were running to the side with the idea of getting ahead of the fugitives and then driving them back upon the other pursuers, enclosing them in a deadly ring.
Suddenly the jungle boy plunged forward into darkness, dragging Gibo with him. He landed with a heavy thud. His head struck something hard. He lay still.
WHEN Bomba came to himself he was lying in utter darkness. For several moments he could not remember what had happened to him. He knew only that his head ached and that the air was stuffy and hard to breathe.
He moved slightly, and a voice instantly reached out to him through the darkness.
"Master! The gods be praised! Bomba's mind has come back to him!"
"Where are we, Gibo?" asked Bomba, as his eyes strained to pierce the blackness. "How did Bomba and Gibo come to be here?"
"The head-hunters were chasing us, Master. They were almost upon us when we fell into this hole. Bomba hit his head, but Gibo fell afterward and was not hurt."
"What happened afterward, Gibo? The savages were almost upon us. Surely, they too must have discovered the hole in the ground."
"But they did not, Master. Else would we even now be in the hands of the cruel Nascanora."
"How is it that Bomba and Gibo were not discovered? Speak quickly, Gibo."
"As we fell into the hole, Master, Gibo's hand struck against a large rock near the opening. He reached out and pulled the rock over till it covered the top of the hole. No one who stepped upon it would know that it had not been there for a long time."
"Did the head-hunters pass by, Gibo?"
"Yes, Master. There were footsteps overhead and the sound of voices. When they had passed all was quiet."
"Gibo did well," he said. "He has saved the lives of both of us. Bomba thanks Gibo."
"Bomba has saved the life of Gibo many times," returned the Indian humbly. "It is nothing, Master."
Bomba felt along the sides of their strange prison with groping, sensitive fingers. The wall seemed part dirt, part rock, and for the first time Bomba wondered if the hole into which they had fallen was an accident of nature or the deliberate work of man.
He drew himself from his prostrate position and crept forward on hands and knees. As he now half expected, the cavity did not end in a wall of dirt, but continued onward into an underground tunnel of indefinite length.
"Where are you, Master?" Gibo's anxious voice came to Bomba out of the darkness.
The jungle boy returned to the Indian and excitedly put forward his theory.
"This is not only a hole in the ground, but a tunnel, Gibo," Bomba explained. "If it has one opening, it will have another. If it stretches out far enough underground, Bomba and Gibo may escape the net of Nascanora."
Gibo was not overenthusiastic. He disliked underground tunnels. Experience had taught him that they frequently led to worse perils than those from which they sought to escape.
"Would it not be better, Master," suggested Gibo, "to wait here till the chase is over and then go back through the mouth of the hole to the light of day?"
"And into the arms of some of Nascanora's braves?" replied Bomba. "No, Gibo, Nascanora will not give up the search so easily. He may even follow his trail back to this rock and discover the trick that Gibo has played upon him."
The dire suggestion caused Gibo to look with more favor on Bomba's proposal to explore the tunnel.
"Lead on, Master," he said. "Gibo will follow."
A question that had harassed Bomba's mind ever since the discovery that Gibo had been captured and that the precious books and papers salvaged from the chest of Sobrinini had also disappeared now found expression of words.
Hesitantly, fearing that he already knew the answer that would be given, Bomba asked:
"What has become, Gibo, of the things we found in the chest by the side of the rushing river."
"They were taken by the people of Nascanora, Master. They came upon Gibo so suddenly that he did not have time to hide them. The head-hunters did not destroy them, but carried them to the camp. Gibo has not seen them since."
Bomba's heart was heavy within him. All that time spent, all those perils endured, for nothing! He had risked his life to get these books and papers. Now it seemed that he would have to risk his life again to regain them.
He waited for a few moments in deep thought, pondering the situation.
His first impulse was to attempt at once the recovery of those documents, which he believed would be of such inestimable worth in solving the secret of his parentage. His sober second thought assured him that such an attempt, with only the half-crippled Indian to help him, would be hopeless from the start.
Besides, his first duty was to Casson, his old friend, to the good chief, Hondura, to his little daughter, Pirah, and to the rest of the people of the Araos, all of whom were his friends. Afterward, if he still lived, he could attempt the recovery of the treasures found in the chest. If he were killed in the onset of Nascanora on the village of Hondura, the books and papers did not matter.
Once decided upon his course of action, Bomba wasted no time. Directing Gibo to keep close behind him, he began the tortuous journey on hands and knees along the underground passage.
As he progressed, Bomba grew more and more convinced that the tunnel was not the product of chance but of design. It was no doubt the work of primitive engineers to serve as an avenue of escape in case of need.
Farther on the tunnel widened and the roof was higher, so that Bomba and Gibo were able to stand upright. After this they made much better progress, and soon came upon a turn in the tunnel that ended in a shaft of moonlight.
Bomba fell back on Gibo, his hand gripping the native's arm, enjoining silence.
"Follow Bomba, but make no noise," he whispered. "Nascanora or Tocarora with their braves may be lying in wait at the mouth of the tunnel."
As they neared the mouth of the passage Bomba went forward inch by inch, alert for the slightest sound.
A tangle of vines half masked the entrance.
Bomba pushed these aside cautiously and, exposing little as possible of himself, looked about him.
His keen eyes searched the environs. The moonlight lay placidly on the landscape and he could see almost as clearly as in the day. He listened intently. When sight and sound failed to reveal any danger, he sought information from his nostrils. He sniffed the air. He could detect the human smell from a long distance. But all his senses assured him that there were no enemies in the vicinity.
He gazed about him wonderingly. He seemed to be in the ruins of a long since abandoned city, one of those landmarks of an ancient civilization that are still to be found here and there in the Amazonian jungle.
There were houses of stone, many of whose walls had crumbled from age and decay. There were roughly paved streets, covered with the debris of ages. There was a large courtyard that at one time might have been the civic center of the town, in which were stone benches and bits of broken pottery. Over the ruins vines had crept in profusion, masking age and decay in a robe of greenery and beauty.
A cautious tour of inspection by Bomba and Gibo assured them that the place was actually empty. The luck was so good that Bomba became suspicious, and it was not until he had searched every portion of the ruins that might hold a lurking enemy that he discarded his doubts.
"All is well," he assured Gibo. "We will find a place where we can eat and rest before striking out into the jungle. We will make ourselves strong for the long journey that is before us."
As Bomba had been, Gibo was distrustful of such unlooked-for good fortune. Even when they were seated in a remote corner of one of the ruined buildings, screened by vines as though in some woodland bower, the native cast wary glances about him, going often to a gap in the wall where he could see the dark line of the jungle beyond the ruined city.
"Come back and eat," commanded Bomba. "This meat of the tapir is dry, but it will give us strength. And Bomba has found a spring in which we may quench our thirst before we enter the jungle."
Gibo obeyed, munching absent-mindedly the meat and looking about him with apprehension.
When Bomba stuffed what remained of the meat into Gibo's pouch and rose to go, Gibo asked:
"Where now does Master go?"
"To the maloca of Hondura," replied Bomba. "Gibo and Bomba must reach there before the people of the Araos hear the war-cry of the head-hunters. There is no time to lose. Come!"
They stopped at a little spring and drank deep of the clear water. And as a matter of precaution against infection, Bomba again bathed and examined Gibo's injured feet and applied new plasters of mud and fresh bandages.
They then left the ruined city warily, using all the stealth their jungle-lore had taught them, not knowing but at any moment they might cross the path of the head-hunters. But as hours passed without misadventure they struck out more boldly and made rapid progress.
Bomba laughed to himself as he pictured the rage and dismay of Nascanora when he found that his prey had escaped him. Magic it must have seemed to him, black magic!
One moment he had heard the fugitives panting and crashing through the bushes ahead of him and his band. The next they had vanished utterly, as though the earth had swallowed them up, as indeed it had.
Bomba was roused from his reverie by a cry of dismay from Gibo.
"THE black swamp lies before us, Master," exclaimed Gibo. "We can go no further."
Bomba looked and saw that Gibo had spoken the truth. A great swamp was that whose edge was at his feet. He had heard of it in native legends, though his own wanderings had never brought him to this part of the jungle.
It stretched for miles in every direction and abounded in quagmires, into which, if one fell, the chances were greatly against his ever getting out again. It was shunned by the Indians, not only because of its material dangers but because it was reputed to be the abode of evil spirits.
Through the swamp ran a river, a dark and brooding river, whose waters sucked at the boggy banks and chuckled darkly as at some secret of their own. A dangerous river, a fit ally of the dismal swamp through which it passed.
"It will take too long to encircle the swamp," decided Bomba after a moment of reflection. "We must try the river."
"We have no boat, Master," objected Gibo. "Besides, the place is the abode of demons."
Without answering, Bomba led the way down to the edge of the stream.
Partly in and partly out of the water were a number of logs of various sizes, parts of the trunks of trees that had been shattered by the hurricane that had recently swept over the jungle.
"Gibo and Bomba will make a raft," the jungle boy declared. "The raft shall carry them on the river through the bog till they reach the solid ground on the other side."
"But the moon is going down," objected Gibo. "How can Bomba see to guide the raft along the river? Bomba's eyes are sharp but they are not the eyes of cats."
Bomba felt the force of the suggestion.
"Listen, Gibo," he said. "It is not in the mind of Bomba to go far on the river until daylight comes. Gibo and Bomba must have sleep, for there is a long journey ahead of them on the morrow. But if they sleep here on the edge of the swamp, it may be that the braves of Nascanora will come here before the morning. If they do and find us here, we cannot flee, because the swamp is ahead of us and would hold our feet fast in the mire.
"But if we travel a little way along the river, we can find some place on the river bank and there we will sleep till morning. If Nascanora comes here, he will find us gone and the river will leave no trace. Even if he thinks Bomba and Gibo have gone into the swamp, he and his braves will not follow for fear of demons. Thus will Bomba and Gibo be safe from the head-hunters. Are not the words of Bomba wise words?"
"Yes, Master," replied the native submissively.
They found several logs of suitable sizes and bound them together in a rude raft with green withes that were as tough and strong as ropes. They cut some saplings and shaped them into poles to propel the craft along. Then they pushed the raft into the river, jumped on board, and yielded to the force of the current, using the poles chiefly as fenders when they came too near the shore.
The course of the river was winding, and they were soon shut out from sight of the place where they had embarked. Bomba drew a sigh of relief. Now let Nascanora and his braves reach the edge of that haunted swamp! Nothing could induce them to enter it.
When they had traveled a mile or more the waning of the moon made it almost impossible to see where they were going, and Bomba decided that the time had come for the sleep they both so sorely needed.
They drew the raft into the shore at a place where thorn thickets abounded. Into one of these they pressed their way and dropped to the ground in utter exhaustion.
Yet with the first light of dawn they were awake, much refreshed by even the two hours of slumber they had been able to snatch.
They made a hurried breakfast of the last that remained of the tapir meat, unlashed their raft from the tree to which they had fastened it, and pushed out once more into the stream.
"How about Gibo's demons?" asked the jungle boy smilingly as the raft moved along on the bosom of the current.
"Let Bomba not mock," replied Gibo, looking about him nervously. "The demons do not like to be laughed at, and Bomba and Gibo are not yet out of the swamp."
They had not proceeded more than a mile when the wind began to come in sharp, ominous gusts and clouds banked up against the sun and the dark, greenish hue that was almost the inevitable precursor of an Amazonian storm settled over the jungle.
The hue deepened and spread. The wind strengthened until Bomba leaned his weight upon it almost as he would against a solid wall.
The current of the river forced the log forward, the wind strove to push it backward. The result was almost a draw. The craft moved along by inches, and Bomba and Gibo had to exert all their strength to retain their footing upon their unstable platform.
Then came the rain, falling in torrents, beating upon the surface of the river like millions of tiny hammers. Thunder crashed down on the jungle. Lightning tore jagged pathways through the black masses of the sky.
The logs became slippery. The raft turned and rolled. The voyagers' supple bodies swayed and undulated with it. It was only by a miracle of gymnastic effort that they were able to stand.
The jungle was a nightmare tumult of discordant sound. The wind shrieked and roared, swept the trees of foliage, broke the branches, precipitated a rain of giant nuts. The greenish hue darkened until it was almost black and the dark curtain was rent again and again by the lightning bolts.
Blinded by the driving rain, Bomba failed to see the big rock until it loomed up directly in his path.
He called a sharp warning to Gibo, at the same time shoving frantically with his pole to fend off the craft.
He was too late! With a fierce shock, the raft struck the rock. Bomba was thrown into the water, the pole flying from his hand.
He heard Gibo's cry, as the Indian was also catapulted into the river.
Down sank Bomba into the black depths. The river seemed to have a thousand hands, all trying to pull him down.
The jungle boy struggled to the surface, filled his lungs with air, and looked around for Gibo.
A brilliant lightning flash illuminated the surface of the water. No sign of Gibo!
A pang of alarm thrilled through Bomba's veins. Had an alligator seized his faithful follower? They had seen no signs of those hideous reptiles in the stream, but there was always a chance that the brutes were lurking at the bottom of the river.
Near by there were signs of a disturbance and bubbles of air were coming to the surface.
Bomba swam swiftly to the spot and dived.
His outstretched hand came in contact with a foot. He yanked at it, but it did not yield. The body to which it belonged seemed to be held as in a vise.
He grasped the situation instantly. Gibo had been caught in a tangled mass of weeds growing up from the bottom and was held fast.
Drawing his machete, Bomba dived lower still and hacked away frantically at the matted growth. Then he pulled desperately and drew the body free.
He rose to the surface, almost suffocated by his long immersion, but holding tightly to the now inert body of the Indian.
There was no chance now to regain the raft, which had been shaken loose from the rock and driven along the stream. He struck out for the shore, using his feet and one hand, while with the other hand he maintained Gibo's head above water.
"Be of good courage, Gibo," the jungle boy gasped. "Bomba and Gibo will soon reach the shore."
There was no response. Gibo had lost consciousness.
Bomba's prophecy proved overconfident. The shore was maddeningly elusive. Confused by the wind and rain, pounded by the water, blinded by the darkness, Bomba found himself out in midstream again and again when he had expected to find the bank at hand.
His muscles were growing weary with the strain. Then, without warning, the struggle came to an end. A flash of lightning revealed the shore close by, and at the same moment Bomba felt the muddy bottom beneath his feet.
He dragged Gibo to the shelter of an overhanging rock and labored over the nearly drowned man until the latter had got rid of the water he had swallowed and recovered his senses.
"Bomba is good to Gibo," the native muttered gratefully, as soon as he could speak.
"It makes Bomba glad to hear Gibo's words," replied the jungle boy. "Bomba had feared that he would never hear Gibo speak again."
He made the Indian rest until he had once more recovered his strength, and then the two set out again, this time on foot.
There was no recovering the raft, and as Bomba believed they had nearly traversed the width of the swamp, he considered it was not worth while to take the time to construct another.
The storm had died away almost as suddenly as it had risen, and they no longer had the wind to contend against. But the journey was arduous, nevertheless, and they had to watch every step to avoid being bogged in the quagmires, to have been caught in which might have meant death.
It was with infinite relief that they left the gloomy precincts of the swamp at last and found themselves on the familiar and solid ground of the jungle.
"And the demons did not catch Bomba and Gibo," the jungle boy chuckled, in high spirits.
"But they did," Gibo reminded him gravely. "Did they not hold Gibo down to the bottom of the river? That was because they heard the mocking words of Bomba."
"But Gibo did not mock," replied the jungle boy. "Why then did the demons not hold Bomba down instead of Gibo?"
Gibo was slightly confused by the question. It did seem rather illogical on the part of the demons.
"All the same, it is not well to laugh at the evil spirits," he finally replied, and Bomba forebore to tease him further.
The sun was out again now, and Bomba was able to take observations and shape his course for the maloca of Hondura.
It was necessary to proceed slowly, for the storm had strewn the way with fresh debris. Here the interlacing branches of a fallen tree formed a barrier across their path; there a tumbled mass of logs and stones looked like the demolished breastworks of a fortress. There were pits to trap unwary feet; tangled vines to noose their heads; gnarled roots to trip them up.
Bomba had almost constantly to use his machete to hew a way for them through the tangle of the jungle. Nevertheless, they kept on doggedly until the sun, directly overhead, told them it was noon.
Then they halted for a brief resting spell. No game had come within reach of Bomba's arrow and they had no food. But it was seldom difficult to find turtles' eggs for those who knew where to look for them, and Gibo hastened away on this errand, while Bomba, with his flint and steel, made a little fire wherewith to roast them.
The jungle boy's mind was swayed by two different emotions. One was a feeling of deep thankfulness for the escape of himself and Gibo from the hands of Nascanora. There had been many times in the last few hours when their lives had hung by a thread. Now, for the time, at least, they had distanced their enemies. He felt certain that the immediate pursuit had ceased.
But blended with this feeling of relief was one of intense anxiety about Hondura, Casson, Pipina, Pirah and the people of the Araos. It was of the utmost importance that they should not only be warned, but that the village should be put in a condition for defense against the onset of Nascanora. He grudged even this necessary halt for food.
Just then his follower came running back to him, his eyes distended, his jaw sagging with fright.
"Danger, Master!" gasped Gibo. "Turn back!"
AT Gibo's warning Bomba gripped his knife and started to his feet.
"Bomba does not turn back for danger, Gibo," he said proudly. "What is wrong?"
"Yonder is a clearing," panted the frightened native, "and in the clearing is a giant bat. Let us go back, Master, while there is yet time."
Bomba was impressed by the terror of his follower, but his curiosity was aroused and, moreover, something in him forbade him to flee from danger till he knew what that danger was or whether it really was danger.
"Bomba will see for himself," he said.
Despite the protests of Gibo, the jungle boy pushed forward to the clearing. There he saw the "giant bat!"
At first he himself was startled, for the thing loomed grotesque and dragon-like, like one of the things seen in nightmares or a monster of the prehistoric world.
Gibo's hand plucked at his arms.
"Perhaps it sleeps," whispered the native. "Let us flee before it wakes!"
Bomba shook off the hand impatiently and strode forward. Gibo followed fearfully.
Then Bomba laughed. It was a queer sound in the awesome silence, and Gibo shrank back as though he had been struck. Bomba beckoned to him, and the Indian approached reluctantly.
"This is no giant bat, Gibo," said Bomba softly. "It is one of the great birds of the white men. Look! It has fallen and broken its wings. It has been partly burned by fire. It has no power to harm Gibo."
Somewhat reassured, Gibo followed Bomba close to the wreck of the airplane. He touched the bent and twisted wires wonderingly and examined the broken wings and battered fuselage with the curiosity of a child making new and wondrous discoveries.
"The great white bird!" he muttered. "It flies in the air and carries men in its stomach. It is strange, Master. It is a frightful thing."
"The white men have many things that those of the jungle do not understand, Gibo," said Bomba gravely. "They have no fear of the great bird as it carries them through the air. Bomba rode on it once when he was caught up by it in the land of the cannibals of Gonibobo."
Bomba slowly encircled the wrecked airplane, examining it with the deepest interest. It was plain to him that for some reason the great white bird had not been able to stay in the air, but had plunged to the earth with disastrous effect. It was a complete wreck, a mere mass of broken wood and twisted metal, blackened by fire.
Bomba wondered if this were the plane of which he had heard when he was listening, unseen, to the conference of Nascanora, Tocarora and Ruspak.
They had spoken of the "man who is tall, the man who is short, and the man who paints pictures." Where were these white men now?
He examined again the airplane, which, while it resembled in the main the first man-made plane in which he had been whisked through the clouds, had points of difference that puzzled the untutored mind of the jungle boy.
"It is a bird of another flock," he said to himself, and gave the problem up as too deep for him.
There were no bodies in the plane nor in the immediate vicinity.
"The white men were not killed in the wreck," he muttered; "otherwise their bodies would be here. They have wandered off by themselves, and perhaps by this time have been captured by the head-hunters."
Precious as time was to him, Bomba could not bring himself to desert white men in trouble. He must spend some time at least in the effort to find them.
Bomba and Gibo returned to the little fire and roasted and ate the eggs that had been found by the latter.
"We will eat and drink, Gibo," announced Bomba. "Then we will look for the white men that rode on the wings of the giant bird."
Gibo clipped the end of an egg on the rock and devoured its contents.
"White men do not live long in the jungle, Master. They die by the fangs of the snake or the teeth of the jaguar, or by the spears of savage men."
"We shall see," said Bomba stolidly.
Their meal over, they repaired again to the wrecked airplane. They looked for footprints, but found only their own. The storm had washed away most marks that would have given Bomba a clue to the direction taken by the wanderers.
In nowise discouraged, the jungle boy widened the circle of his investigations. Not until he had reached the edge of the clearing did he find prints leading into the jungle.
Bending to examine them, Bomba saw that they were made by shoes, the shoes worn by white men. His heart quickened as he felt the tug of the blood. He himself wore the native sandals, but, nevertheless, he, too, was white. These men were his brothers. He must try to find them.
He called to Gibo, and, warning the native not to tread in the prints of the castaways, bade him follow.
They had gone some distance into the jungle when Bomba paused and beckoned eagerly to Gibo. The jungle boy pointed to the ground.
"Tell Bomba what Gibo sees," he directed.
"There has been a fight, Master," the native replied. "The underbrush is trampled and there are stains on the rocks."
"It has been a great struggle, Gibo. Here in the soft ground many tracks remain, and some of them are the prints of tribesmen."
"The white men have been captured, Master," was Gibo's conclusion. "They are prisoners now or dead. Bomba and Gibo can do nothing to help them."
Bomba, however, did not dismiss the matter so indifferently.
"We will go on further, Gibo. Then, if we find no traces of the white men, we will have to hasten to the maloca of Hondura."
On the other side of a narrow stream, some distance from the scene of the conflict, Bomba picked up again the tracks of the white men. There were no native footprints this time, and this fact led Bomba to believe that the whites had escaped after the desperate encounter.
After awhile the three sets of footprints merged into each other. Bomba paused to consult about this with Gibo.
"One of the men is wounded or sick, Gibo," he said. "His comrades carry him. See, some of the tracks are much deeper than others."
"White men cannot live in the jungle," he declared. "All of them are dead by now, Master."
Without reply, Bomba started on again. A short distance further on he lost the tracks completely. They had stopped at the base of a rocky plateau that stretched far ahead. On those rocks no impression of the strangers' feet would show.
Either the white men had been frightened from the tracks of enemies ahead into wandering from the trail, or they had abandoned it of their own free will in search of water or of game. Whatever the cause, the prints were lost, and it would be a waste of time to follow further.
"Let us hope they are safe, Gibo," the jungle boy said sadly. "Bomba and Gibo will go no further than those low cliffs and then set a course by the sun for the maloca of Hondura."
Gibo acquiesced with a grunt and padded on after his leader.
Bomba stopped abruptly.
Below him was a mass of rocks, rigid and uncompromising against the lush vegetation of the jungle. It was not upon the bleached rocks, however, that Bomba's eyes were fastened.
A white man lay upon the ledge of rock. On other rocks a little above him, all unsuspected by their intended victim, who seemed to be unconscious or asleep, crouched two immense jaguars, gathering to spring.
A twig cracked close to Bomba. Gibo was beside him. By the sudden, sharp intake of breath, it was evident that Gibo had seen.
Bomba unslung his bow and fitted an arrow to the string.
"I will pin them through the neck with my arrows," he muttered swiftly. "If Bomba fails, let Gibo hurl rocks down on them."
His bow twanged and one of the arrows sped swiftly to its mark.
It buried itself, quivering, in the throat of the nearer jaguar.
THE jaguar at which Bomba had shot leaped into the air with a hideous roar and fell over, its claws beating the air in its death flurry.
The second jaguar turned, as a rock hurled by Gibo hurtled through the air. The projectile missed the beast's head, but struck it on the flank.
Enraged, the jaguar sprang for Gibo. The native started backward, tripped and fell heavily.
The great beast landed astride of the Indian's helpless body, its yellow fangs bared.
"Master!" shouted Gibo. "Save me!"
The twang of Bomba's bow cut through the snarl of the jaguar.
The feather-hafted shaft penetrated the brute's heart, and it died instantly, falling half across Gibo's prostrate body.
As Gibo pushed it off and struggled to his feet, both he and Bomba turned toward the white man.
The latter had lifted himself to a standing position and stood swaying on the edge of the rock.
Bomba sprang forward and put a sinewy arm about the shoulders of the white man. The latter trembled and shook and slumped against Bomba. Either he was eaten up with fever or was at the point of exhaustion.
As Bomba eased him to the rock and bent over him solicitously, the man looked up wonderingly into the face of the jungle lad. He raised bronzed, sensitive fingers and touched Bomba's face.
"You are strong," he muttered, "strong for a boy and a mighty hunter. You slew those great beasts with your own hands!"
"All my life I have lived in the jungle," Bomba answered. "One learns in the jungle to fight."
The touch of the lean fingers, long and delicate, thrilled him. He studied the drawn and haggard face of the white man with an eager interest he was at a loss to understand.
"All—your life—you have lived—in the jungle," muttered the man. He frowned, trying to rally his failing faculties. "You are—you have—" his voice trailed off into nothingness, his head fell back on Bomba's arm.
Bomba called sharply to Gibo:
"Bring water. The white man has need of it."
The stranger opened his eyes, frowned again and struggled to a sitting posture. He tried to speak, but Bomba could make nothing of the meaningless jumble that came from between his lips. The man raised his hand and pointed urgently into the jungle.
Realizing that for some reason of his own the white man wished to be taken in that direction, Bomba lifted him to his feet and supported him with one arm flung across his shoulders.
Gibo, returning with water in a cup he had made out of a leaf, gave the white man a drink, then followed as Bomba half led, half carried the stranger into the jungle.
They had gone but a short distance when the white man paused, lifted a whistle that hung by a cord around his neck and blew a sharp blast on it.
Gibo cried out in wonder and alarm. Bomba himself was startled. Was the white man a traitor? Was he about to turn him, Bomba, over to his enemies?
Almost immediately, Bomba was reassured. Two other white men broke from the underbrush and came swiftly toward him.
They regarded Bomba and Gibo curiously and with some distrust. The hand of one of them flew to his revolver, but before he could draw, Bomba spoke reassuringly.
"We are friends of the white man," he said gravely.
The sick man rested his full weight on Bomba's strong shoulders. His head sagged forward, as he said in a voice that was hardly audible:
"The lad—saved—my life."
He would have fallen, had not Bomba caught him and swung him over his shoulder.
The two newcomers started forward as though to take their comrade, but Bomba waved them back.
"This place is too open," he said. "You must find shelter for your friend. He is sick."
The white men exchanged glances. One of them nodded slightly. He said to Bomba:
"We have found a cave. If you think you can carry our friend unaided, follow us."
Bomba nodded and followed where they led, carrying his burden with consummate ease.
They came in a short time to a cave beneath a wall of rock, a fairly commodious place with a slab of flat rock for a floor. In one corner the men had strewn some branches to form a bed and had covered it with leaves, so that it made a reasonably soft and yielding couch.
The tall white man pointed to it, and Bomba eased his burden gently down upon the bed. The tattered sleeve of the sick man fell away and disclosed a bandage tied about the arm below the shoulder. The bandage was stained with blood.
Bomba glanced up, and one of the white men nodded.
"We had a fight with savages," he said. "Our friend was wounded and lost a good deal of blood."
For a long minute Bomba studied the face of the wounded man. It was a fine face, despite the lines of fatigue and suffering that marred it. The brow was broad, the straight nose well cut, the mouth firm, though sensitive. Bomba remembered the eyes, closed now, that had met his for a few searching seconds. They were dark eyes like his own, shadowed, seeking.
The voice of the tall white man recalled him.
"You know our friend? You have seen him before?"
Curiously enough, Bomba hesitated. Never to his knowledge had he set eyes upon the sick white man. Why then did he have that strange conviction that he did know him, had known him always?
"No," he said slowly, "I do not know him. He is strange to me."
The shorter of the two white men came forward, took a phial from his pocket and forced some medicine between the lips of his sick friend.
"He will do well enough now, Larlett," he said to the tall man. "What he needs is rest and nourishing food. Though he has small chance of the latter unless we can find our way out of this accursed jungle," he added bitterly.
The man who had been addressed as Larlett did not reply directly to his friend's remark. Instead, he turned to Bomba, regarding the lad keenly.
"Who are you, boy?" he asked. "And who is that dark-skinned fellow that follows you like your shadow?"
"I am Bomba," replied the lad simply. "I have lived all my life in the jungle. This is Gibo, a native of this country, and he follows me because he is my friend."
"Our poor comrade," said Larlett, indicating the sick man on the couch, "gives you the credit for saving his life. Do you mind telling us what happened?"
Bomba motioned Gibo to come forward and settled himself, cross-legged, on the ground. The native followed his example, the white men regarding them intently.
In simple terms and without embroidering his own part in the affair, Bomba told of coming across the white man on the ledge of rock, of the fight with the jaguars, and the death of the beasts.
The white men listened with open-eyed wonder and admiration and expressed their gratitude for the jungle boy's courage and his unerring aim.
"We had gone on into the jungle in the hope of finding some shelter and constructing some sort of litter for carrying our sick friend," the shorter of the two men explained. "We were on our way back to the ledge of rock when we heard his whistle. If it had not been for you, however, we would have come too late."
He was interrupted by a cry from his comrade.
"Look at that fiendish creature, Bromfield! Shoot it!"
Close to the litter on which the sick man lay was a huge tarantula. It had probably made its way out of the branches of which the rude couch was composed. Its loathsome body, as big as a man's hand and swollen with poison, was covered with rough hair. What seemed innumerable legs radiated from the body. Its eyes were fastened on the man who lay motionless on the litter.
"Do not shoot," cautioned the jungle boy softly. "The tarantula's spring is faster than your bullet." The real reason was that he doubted the white man's marksmanship and feared that the bullet might hit the sick man.
Bomba's fingers closed on a heavy stone lying beside him. With the speed of light he hurled it. The stone landed fair on the tarantula's body, crushing it into pulp.
AN exclamation of relief came from the two strangers when the stone hurled by Bomba reached its mark and Gibo grunted his admiration.
"Well aimed, Master!" he said.
The respect of the white men for this mysterious lad of the jungle visibly increased.
"For the second time our friend owes his life to you," said the taller of the two, the one addressed as Larlett. "He will be grateful when he knows of this."
Bomba shrugged his shoulders.
"It is nothing," he said. "The tarantula is the least of the dangers that await one in the jungle."
"I believe you!" replied Larlett emphatically. "The jungle has given us nothing but trouble."
"And something tells me we've not seen the worst of it yet," added his companion.
"Are you the white men who fell from the sky in the great bird?" questioned Bomba.
The men exchanged puzzled glances.
"He means the plane," said Larlett. "He must have come across it in the clearing." To Bomba he said: "We are those same white men, boy. Our gas tank caught fire and we came to earth in a blaze of glory."
Bomba nodded gravely.
"The wings of the great bird were burned. It is strange that you escaped with your lives."
"It was a close squeeze," declared Larlett. He regarded the boy thoughtfully. "I am beginning to think it was mighty lucky that we fell in with you, son. It's about time we had a little luck," he added with a touch of bitterness.
Bomba said nothing, but looked ahead of him stolidly. He knew that the white man wanted to speak. He would not try to prod or hurry him. Let him take his time.
"I am Amory Larlett," the man went on after a few moments of silence. "My friend here is David Bromfield. By profession we are adventurers, though we call ourselves explorers, and from time to time have made discoveries that might be said to justify that title.
"Just now, however, we have made a mistake that no explorer is supposed to make. We have permitted ourselves to become lost."
Bomba was listening with the keenest interest, though he made no comment. After a moment, Amory Larlett continued:
"As long as we could keep the plane—or the big bird, as you call it—in the air, we were all right. But when the crash came and we found ourselves afoot, we were forced to admit that we were lost, that we had no notion where in the jungle we were, nor how we could get out of it."
"Worse than that," put in the other white man, David Bromfield, "we had not gone far from the plane when we were surrounded by a band of savages and were forced to fight off an attack of unbelievable ferocity."
"We found the place in the jungle where you fought," he said. "We thought you had been captured and carried off by the savages."
Larlett laughed ruefully.
"Heaven knows how we succeeded in fighting off the attack," he said. "Of course, we had rifles and plenty of ammunition, and men with their backs to the wall will generally put up a good scrap. At any rate, we packed some of the savages full of lead, and the rest of them retreated, carrying their dead and wounded with them."
"It was a victory we hardly dared to expect, and we're not quite sure of it even now," David Bromfield supplemented. "We feel that the savages have merely drawn off and that they are watching us and that they will attack again when they get ready."
Bomba shook his head doubtfully.
"Bomba does not think so," he averred, thinking of Casson and Pipina and little Pirah. "They are after others who will give them many more heads to stick up on their wigwams."
The white men regarded him curiously.
"You speak with authority, my boy," Larlett said. "Would you mind telling us who you are and how you have come to this conclusion?"
"I am Bomba," said the lad simply. "I know the savages and their ways. I know the wicked Nascanora and Tocarora. They are men of evil, men of blood."
"I believe you," murmured David Bromfield.
"You have suffered at the hands of these savages, boy?" asked Larlett curiously.
"Not Bomba, but his good friend, Gibo," returned the jungle boy, with a nod toward the Indian. "Gibo fell into the hands of the bloody Nascanora. He was strung up by his wrists to a tree. His feet were smeared with honey so that the bees and the ants would find him and eat him alive."
The bitten and swollen feet of Gibo bore ample testimony to the truth of Bomba's statement.
"It's a wonder to me that the poor fellow can walk at all!" exclaimed Larlett, in dismay.
"It is nothing," put in Gibo. "Gibo is lucky to escape with his life."
"That was only the beginning," went on Bomba.
"After the bees and the ants should have feasted much, the boiling pot would have been made ready to cook what remained of Gibo—"
"Enough, boy!" exclaimed Larlett, his face twisted with distaste. "The very thought sickens me."
"It would sicken you still more if you were the intended victim," Bromfield pointed out. "The lad is mighty interesting, Amory. He has seen many things. Let him go on."
Thus encouraged, Bomba continued the story of his adventures at the Moving Mountain, the Giant Cataract, on Jaguar Island, among the cannibals, and in the Abandoned City. He told briefly of his last expedition and the thrilling adventures of himself and Gibo in their search along the Underground River. He narrated the difficulties that had beset his path on his present journey; how Gibo had been captured and the precious books and papers taken by the braves of Nascanora.
"You did not tell us how Gibo got away this time from Nascanora," put in Bromfield.
"Bomba went after him," said the lad simply.
"Bomba's arrow pierced the heart of one brave and his knife found the heart of another," interrupted Gibo.
"Nascanora and Tocarora march now upon the tribe of the Araos," said Bomba. "They would destroy the good chief and all those who dwell in the maloca."
As the words brought home to him forcibly the delay he had suffered in his mission, the jungle boy sprang to his feet and prepared to depart.
"Bomba must go," he muttered. "Bomba must be swift, or Casson, Hondura, the little Pirah—all will fall into the hands of the wicked Nascanora. Come, Gibo."
The command came from the lips of Amory Larlett. The white man had been studying the boy with grave intentness. Now he spoke with a restrained eagerness, an excitement which Bomba failed to understand.
"You say you have lived all your life in the jungle," said Larlett. "You are as dark as a native and you speak like one. Yet there is a difference."
Bomba drew himself up proudly.
"Bomba is not an Indian," he declared. "Bomba is white."
He drew aside the puma skin and showed his white chest, contrasting sharply with the rest of his sun-tanned body.
Bromfield was on his feet, his face strangely alight.
"Great Scott! I see what you're driving at—"
Larlett made a silencing gesture with his hand. His attention was centered upon the bewildered jungle boy.
"You spoke just now of a man named Casson," said Amory Larlett. "Can you tell us his full name and what he has to do with you?"
"I spoke of Cody Casson," replied Bomba wonderingly. "He is an old man, weak and wandering in his mind. He is my friend."
David Bromfield was like a man in a trance. He stared at his friend, Larlett.
"You tell him, Amory," he said weakly.
The white explorer put a hand upon the bronzed shoulder of Bomba, the jungle boy. His gaze was kindly, but full of a strange excitement. Bomba felt the tension in the atmosphere. His dark eyes met the gaze of the white man steadily and without flinching. He was bewildered but unafraid.
"My boy," said Larlett, "I believe I am on the verge of a great discovery. I must ask you one question before I am sure. Will you tell me if Bomba is the only name you know?"
"I have been called Bomba—" the lad began, and then paused. His heartbeats quickened. It came to him suddenly that these white men were interested in him, Bomba. They had asked his real name. Was it possible that they knew something about him, something concerning the mystery of his parentage? As steadily as he could, he made answer: "All in the jungle call me Bomba. But there is another name some say is mine."
"Yes? What is it? Speak out, lad."
"It is Bartow," said Bomba.
He saw the questioning in Larlett's eyes change to conviction. He heard David Bromfield say in an excited voice:
"It can't be true, Amory, but it is!"
Then Bomba was aware once more of Larlett's hand upon his shoulder, the fingers tightening in a grip that was almost painful.
"Listen, lad," said Larlett. "We and our friend on the litter there have been looking for an aged scientist by the name of Cody Casson. We had every reason to believe that, if we should succeed in finding Casson, we would find also a lad who was not born in the jungle, a white lad by the name of Bonny Bartow."
Bomba stared into the face of the kindly white man. His dark eyes had begun to glow.
"Bonny Bartow," he repeated softly. "Bonny—that is the other name of Bomba."
The two white men regarded him in silence for a moment, studying the fine, fearless face, the powerful shoulders, the gliding muscles, the resolute jaw, and the flashing eyes.
David Bromfield came forward, pushing Larlett aside. He gripped Bomba by both shoulders.
There was a look on his face that sat oddly on features usually rugged and stern.
"I believe Andrew Bartow has found his son," he said, and added, an odd huskiness in his deep voice, "a son to make proud the heart of any man."
Emotion flooded Bomba, emotion that shook him so he could hardly stand. He tried to speak, but found no words. At last they came, two only, hoarse and broken.
"My father?" The words were torn from him, from the depths of his swelling heart.
The two white men were also bereft of speech. Amory Larlett turned and pointed to the litter.
Now Bomba knew why he had been thrilled by the touch of those lean, bronzed fingers on his face. Now he could understand the desire to serve the strange white man who, from the moment of his seeing him, had taken possession of his heart.
No stranger, but his father!
BOMBA sank to his knees beside the litter, hungry eyes on the face of the unconscious man.
Gently, wonderingly, he touched the broad brow, the closed eyes, the strong, sensitive mouth. Bomba lifted the bronzed hand in his own and studied it, remembering the touch of it upon his face.
"My father!" he murmured.
Andrew Bartow stirred, but did not open his eyes, and Bomba continued to kneel there beside him, brooding over him, as motionless as a bronze statue.
The two explorers had drawn away and talked together in lowered tones.
"Do you think there could be the least doubt about the relationship, Dave?" queried Larlett.
Bromfield shook his head.
"Not a doubt in the world. They are amazingly alike. The profiles of Bartow and the boy have been cut from the same pattern. There's no mistake about it, Amory."
"Poor Bartow!" murmured Larlett. "The greatest moment of his life and he unable to appreciate it!"
"That's only for a time," responded Bromfield. "The time will come when he will recognize his son. And such a son, Amory! I tell you that boy is unique."
"I grant you that. I've never seen a more perfect physical specimen. He's had his training in a hard school, but from the look of him he has learned his lessons well. What a contrast he will be to our civilized lads, Dave, husky and sturdy as many of them are."
"A contrast in more ways than one," said Bromfield gravely. "The lad has been accustomed to the jungle all his life. This is the only life he knows. It will be cruel to transplant him."
"It would be just as cruel to leave him here; perhaps more so," returned Larlett. "Hush! Here he comes."
Bomba came to where they stood. He drove directly to the subject that was uppermost in his mind. Although he looked at them, the explorers felt that he did not see them; that the vision of Andrew Bartow, his father, so filled his mind that there was room for little else.
"Bomba must go on to the maloca of Hondura to warn him of the coming attack of Nascanora. He cannot leave his father and you alone in the jungle. Will you come with Bomba?"
Bromfield and Larlett exchanged glances. It was the latter who spoke.
"Gladly, my boy," he said. "The first and most important object of our journey was accomplished when we met you. If you can lead us to Cody Casson, it will be more good fortune than we had dared to hope for."
"There will be danger," Bomba warned him. "We are few and the head-hunters are many."
"If we remained here we would be fewer against many," replied David Bromfield humorously. "We are very glad to have the benefit of your jungle experience, lad. When do we start?"
Bomba hesitated, looking about him.
"There is still time to cover much ground before the darkness comes," he said. "We will follow the river in search of food and rest when the sun goes down. There we can make a fire to warm us and keep off the wild beasts."
"You know best, lad," said Larlett, at that moment gladly relinquishing his leadership to the jungle boy. "Lead on and we will follow."
"Good!" said Bomba briefly. He turned to Gibo and gave his orders. "Gibo will help the white men with the litter," he said, "while Bomba goes ahead to scout and search for game. We will follow the line of the cliffs to Tapir Rock, then turn east to the rushing river. We will go as fast as we can with the wounded man before night comes on the jungle."
From the beginning of their forced march to the maloca of Hondura, the white men watched every movement of the jungle boy with intense interest. He was more than the son of their friend, Andrew Bartow. He was a fascinating example of what environment will do to a human creature. Bonny Bartow, brought up in civilized surroundings, would, in all probability, have been only one bright and active lad among thousands of other bright and active lads, scarcely distinguishable from them in a multitude of ways.
Bonny Bartow, born in civilization, but brought up in the jungle, was a magnificent enigma, mysterious, unique, unguessable. He had all the strength and endurance and cunning of the primitive man coupled with the intelligence and instincts of the whites.
What conflicts must have taken place in the mind of the white boy reared in the jungle, Larlett and Bromfield could only guess. To them, as they made their way through the jungle, he presented an ever-changing variety of human being that fascinated them and temporarily hypnotized them into forgetting the dangers that pressed upon them from every side.
Bomba went ahead to clear the way. He carried his bow in hand and ready for instant use.
After a few minutes of traveling, he halted until they came up to him. As they approached, they saw that he stood motionless, an arrow fitted to the bow, the string drawn taut.
Gibo motioned the white men to stop. They obeyed, lowering the litter into the rank weeds, watching Bomba intently.
They noted that the lad had halted close to a pool fed by a spring that sprang up from among rocks, a clear, sparkling stream that he knew must be a favorite watering place for the creatures of the jungle.
Bomba's sensitive ear had caught the sound of movements that the others did not detect. He stood rigid and waited.
The wind was blowing toward him and his companions. An antelope pushed through the underbrush a hundred yards away.
Bomba's bow twanged and the antelope gave a convulsive leap and fell dead. The arrow had entered the vital part just behind the shoulder.
Bomba moved forward toward the quarry and the others followed. Stoically, Gibo drew his hunting knife and began to skin the still warm carcass of the animal.
"What a shot!" exclaimed Larlett. "You seemed scarcely to stop to take aim."
"Caught him the instant the creature stepped into the open," added Bromfield.
"We needed the meat," said Bomba simply. "The flesh of the antelope is sweet. It will put strength into the body of my father."
Then, as at all times in that long, hard march, Bomba's first thought was for his father, the man who lay unconscious on the litter, sometimes quiet, sometimes raving in the delirium of fever, but always tended by Bomba with an anxiety and a tireless devotion pathetic to those who witnessed it.
"The boy is starved for the love of those of his own blood," commented Larlett. "He has a wealth of affection in his nature, for all his manner of a stoic."
"How could the son of Andrew and Laura Bartow be otherwise?" responded Bromfield.
The choicer parts of the antelope were kept, the rest discarded. The little procession resumed its way, bearing in the direction of some cliffs where Bomba hoped to find suitable shelter for himself and companions for the night.
He knew that this must be found speedily. The sun was already far down in the west. Bromfield and Larlett, not accustomed as were Bomba and Gibo to long jungle marches, were tiring. The litter, too, was heavy, and the man lying on it was becoming restless. His wound must be dressed again, Bomba knew, and some nourishment forced upon him.
An hour later when they came to a cave overshadowed by a cliff Bomba ordered a halt. The litter was placed well back in the cave to avoid the chill of the open, for though the days were hot the nights were cold.
Gibo set to work gathering brushwood for the fire, while Bomba removed the bandage from the arm of Andrew Bartow and examined the wound.
It was an ugly gash about midway between the elbow and the shoulder. Examining it closely, anxiously, Bomba judged that it was not infected. It had been a clean thrust, and as yet made no serious threat against the life of the patient.
He sponged it carefully with water brought from a near-by spring, applied to it some of the native medicaments he carried in his pouch and which he knew by experience to be efficacious and bandaged the wound with wet leaves, taking care not to make the dressing too tight but to leave room for the circulation of air.
These operations Larlett and Bromfield had watched with keen attention and, it must be admitted, some skepticism.
"You think that will do?" asked Amory Larlett.
"The wound does not bleed. It will do," answered Bomba briefly.
He settled his father more comfortably on the litter and went to dress Gibo's feet anew and to help with the preparation of the evening meal.
More and more the white explorers were amazed at the resource and capability of the jungle boy. Though more than twice his age in years and far more experienced themselves than most of their kind, they found themselves leaning more and more upon Bomba, upon his knowledge and sure judgment.
"The boy knows everything," said Bromfield, as he relaxed at the entrance of the cave and sniffed the tempting aroma of antelope meat sizzling on sharp-pointed sticks above a crackling fire. "He makes me feel like an ignoramus, Amory."
Amory Larlett nodded comprehendingly.
"We are very fortunate to have met him, Dave," he rejoined. "Not only have we discovered the long-lost and dearly desired son of Andrew Bartow, but we have attached to ourselves an invaluable guide through this terrible jungle. I tremble to think what might have happened to us if this remarkable lad with that devoted servant of his had not appeared on the scene. Lost, without food, with diminishing ammunition, with a sick man on our hands—"
The explorer broke off as Bomba approached him and held out a large piece of brown and juicy meat on the point of a stick.
Gibo handed a similar portion of meat to David Bromfield.
The white men accepted the food eagerly.
"This looks and smells delicious," said Larlett. "When do you eat, lad?"
"Soon. There is enough for all," replied Bomba.
The white men watched while Bomba took some choice portions of the meat to Andrew Bartow.
They saw him lift the sick man's head and try to coax him back to consciousness. Bartow moaned restlessly, but did not open his eyes.
Bomba lowered him again to the litter. He pried open the mouth of the patient and squeezed the dripping juice of the meat down his throat.
Andrew Bartow swallowed convulsively and groaned. Bomba gently persisted in his treatment, forcing drop after drop of life-giving nourishment into the mouth until the meat was squeezed dry. Only then did he take some of the meat that Gibo tendered him and eat it avidly.
After a while Andrew Bartow ceased to turn and toss restlessly and sank into a deep, almost natural sleep.
Darkness fell thickly over the jungle, blotting out all objects outside of the illumination cast by the fire. Lulled by comfortable digestion and the warmth of the fire, the oddly assorted little company sat silent, each member of it absorbed in his own thoughts. Presently, out of the silence, Bomba spoke.
"Tell me of my father," he said.
David Bromfield took his pipe from his mouth and stared at the jungle boy, uncertain what to say. It was Amory Larlett who answered.
"What do you want to know, boy?"
"Everything," said Bomba.
He sat with his knees drawn up beneath his chin, his arms locked about his knees, brooding eyes on the fire. "Bomba has heard that he paints pictures. That is all that Bomba knows."
"He is a great artist, Bonny." Bomba started at this use of his real name, so strange to his ears. "His fame has spread all over the world. He is a father to be proud of."
"Bomba is proud of him," said the lad simply. His eyes glowed in the firelight. His bronzed skin shone in the glint of the dancing flames like copper. "Tell me more. Tell me of my mother."
BOMBA'S voice had softened and was like music as he spoke of his mother. He did not turn toward the white men, but remained immobile, gazing into the fire. He seemed to hold his breath to listen.
"Your mother remained behind in one of the coast cities," replied Larlett, "while your father came into the jungle to make one last search for you, hoping against hope that he might find you."
Now Bomba turned to him, his face inquiring.
"Has my father ever looked for me before?" he asked.
It was the turn of Amory Larlett to look surprised.
"Of course," he answered. "You don't suppose your father and mother would give you up without a struggle, do you? For years their lives have been shadowed by the loss of their son. They have searched constantly, refusing to be discouraged, even when the search seemed hopeless. They have always believed they would find you some day—a hope that has now been justified."
They were interrupted by a voice, a voice faint and weak, but imperative. It said one word, "Bonny!"
The explorers and Bomba turned toward Andrew Bartow to find him struggling to a sitting posture.
Bomba sprang to him and put his hands behind his shoulders, supporting him.
The sick man stared at Bomba, stared without seeing him. His eyes were glazed with fever. He reached out his hands past Bomba and called the name of his lost son over and over again.
David Bromfield kneeled down beside the sick man. He put his hand on Andrew Bartow's shoulder. He spoke in a voice shaken with emotion.
"We have found the boy for you, old man. Look, Bartow, this is your son. Look at him! Isn't he fine? The search is over. We've found him."
The mind of Andrew Bartow made a valiant effort to force a way through the fog that enveloped it. His brows contracted in an attempt at concentration. A look of intelligence flashed across his haggard face. Then, as suddenly as it had come, it vanished. His eyes closed and his weight sagged against Bomba.
The lad lowered him gently. David Bromfield took a phial from his pocket and forced a few drops of medicine between the lips of the sick man. Larlett put a hand on Bomba's shoulder as the latter bent anxiously over the rude couch.
"Andrew Bartow is a strong man," he said. "He had bad luck, for he was hurt in the accident to the plane and later wounded in the fight with the savages, but he has a good constitution and a strong heart. He will pull through."
Somewhat reassured, Bomba squatted beside the litter and resumed his questioning.
"Tell me more of my mother," he begged. "I have heard her name is Laura."
"Yes," replied Larlett. "She is a beautiful woman, Bonny; though since the loss of her son she has never been a happy one." He paused for a moment.
"Tell me more about her," Bomba implored.
"There is so much to tell about Laura Bartow that it is difficult to know where to begin," said Larlett slowly. "To say that she is beautiful is nothing, for she is so much more than that. She has a mind that is as bright as a diamond and a charm and graciousness of manner that endears her to all with whom she comes in contact."
Bomba's heart swelled at this description of his mother. He did not understand the meaning of half the words that Larlett used, but he knew from his tone and manner that his mother was to others what she had been to him in his dreams of her, something rare, mysterious, more wonderful than anything he had ever known.
"I have seen her," he said.
Both Larlett and Bromfield were startled.
"You have what?" demanded the latter.
"I have seen her," Bomba repeated, leaning forward to put some fresh sticks on the fire.
Bromfield was about to speak when Amory Larlett raised a warning hand.
"If you have seen your mother, Bonny," he said gently, "I am certain she has never seen you since you were a baby. If she had she would have proclaimed the fact to the world."
"She looked down on me from a wall in the hut of the witch woman. Her eyes were big and dark and they followed me. She was my mother."
The explorers had followed his words with the most intense interest. They exchanged glances, and Bromfield said:
"Do you mean that you saw a picture of your mother, lad?"
Bomba looked puzzled. Pictures were a deep and baffling mystery to him. That an object without sense or feeling could exactly resemble a person without being that person was something beyond his comprehension. He had been assured that this was so, and had set it down as one more bewilderment in a world of bewilderments.
He answered David Bromfield's question to the best of his ability.
"A picture does not move or speak. This that I saw did not move or speak. Yet it was my mother."
The white men felt their sympathy, their affection, reaching out toward the untutored jungle lad. They recognized him for what he was—a magnificent product of the life that had molded him.
Entirely at home in what had become his natural atmosphere, able to take the lead in situations where they would have been entirely at a loss, he was, nevertheless, in all things pertaining to civilization a child, groping blindly in the mists. They realized that they must proceed slowly with him.
Gently, Larlett said:
"Pictures are so much like the person they represent that it is often hard for us to realize that they are not alive. That is what is meant, I suppose, by a 'speaking likeness.' The picture is so real that we expect it at any moment to open its lips and speak to us."
Bomba turned eagerly to the white man who had said so clearly the thing that he himself could not have put into words.
"That is it!" he exclaimed. "The picture of my mother spoke to me. I could not take my eyes away from her. It was later that I learned she was my mother."
"Tell us about it, son," said David Bromfield persuasively. "Where is the hut of this witch woman you speak of and how did you come across the picture of your mother?"
Bomba launched into the weird tale of his visit to the Island of Snakes, of his first meeting with the witch woman, of his introduction to that grotesque 'opera house' with its seats and stage, and of the discovery of Laura's picture on the wall of the primitive cabin.
The white men listened with rapt attention. Not once did they interrupt until Bomba had finished his story and again sat silent, looking into the fire.
"What was the name of the witch woman, lad?" inquired Larlett.
"Sobrinini," replied Bomba.
"Sobrinini!" cried Bromfield. "By Jove, Amory, the thing is beginning to fit itself together like the pieces of a picture puzzle!"
BOMBA was bewildered at the sensation the name of Sobrinini, the witch woman, had created.
"Did the white men know Sobrinini?" he queried.
"We knew of her, my boy," replied Bromfield. "She was a great opera singer in her time, few better. However, like a great many geniuses, she was a little mad, I think."
"Her voice was like the rippling of water over stones," said Bomba dreamily. "It was like the crash of thunder and the music of a thousand birds. When she sang, everything else was still."
"Tell us about her," Bromfield urged.
Bomba complied, describing the last days of Sobrinini, that glorious moment before her death when her golden voice had returned to her, when she was again the great Sobrinini, the singer whose art had conquered two continents.
"A magnificent death!" exclaimed Larlett, and added sympathetically, "Poor woman! How she must have suffered!"
"She loved my mother," said Bomba. "Tell me more about my mother."
"Laura Bartow and this Sobrinini were close friends," said Larlett. "Your mother was a great singer, too, Bonny, with a voice like liquid gold. She and Sobrinini traveled to South America in the same opera company. They filled engagements in the leading cities.
"Sobrinini quarreled with the manager and in a fit of temper— or temperament—quitted the company. After that she was not heard of for some time. Later, news drifted in that she had been seen at various places on the border of the jungle, singing to small groups of traders and natives. After that she dropped out of sight."
"Tell me more of my mother," persisted Bomba.
What Bromfield and Larlett had to tell was substantially what Bomba had gathered from the disjointed utterances of Casson and Sobrinini.
Japazy had become infatuated with Laura in Europe. She had repulsed him and told her husband. Andrew Bartow had fought a duel with Japazy. The latter was wounded and eventually disappeared and they thought they had seen the last of him. But he had been biding his time and, appearing in Brazil, had kidnaped the infant Bonny and made good his escape.
"Your mother," Larlett went on, "was prostrated with grief. For a time they feared for her reason. She gave up her operatic career and retired to private life. Grieving constantly, she has never for a moment given up the hope that her son still lives and will be restored to her. She and your father have offered great rewards and have searched for you constantly."
"And I have searched for them," said Bomba. It warmed his heart to know that during the years when he had ardently sought to solve the mystery of his parentage, his parents had as ardently searched for him.
It made him feel that during those lonely years he had never been actually alone. He felt in some odd way that he had never been truly separated from his parents, despite the years that stretched between them. His longing and theirs had bridged the gap and bound them to each other.
"Now we have answered your questions, son," said Bromfield. "Turn about is fair play. Suppose you answer some more of ours."
"Bomba will tell what he knows," replied the jungle lad.
In answer to their queries, Bomba revealed to them the drama of his life since he had been old enough to remember anything. He told of Casson, of how the old naturalist had found him in the power of the villainous half-breed in the jungle, had struck Japazy to the earth and carried off the child; of the struggles of Casson to win his way from the jungle to civilization with his young charge and return him to his parents; of how he had been thwarted by circumstances stronger than himself; of how the old man now lay frail and almost helpless in the maloca of the good chief, Hondura.
"Andrew Bartow will be glad to see Casson," said Larlett, when the lad had finished. "There is only one person I know of that he would still be more glad to meet. That is the wretch, Japazy."
"That he will never do," said the jungle lad quietly. "Japazy is dead. He died in a fight with Bomba."
He told in detail of that thrilling battle on the cliffs when the scoundrelly half-breed had gone whirling to his death over the precipice to the rocks hundreds of feet below.
"Talk about poetic justice!" cried Bromfield. "The wretch Japazy killed in a battle with the child he had wronged!"
"Bartow will be glad to learn that his archenemy has met the fate he deserved," he said, "although I fancy he'll be disappointed that it was not his own hand that took vengeance."
"One can't have everything," Bromfield pointed out. "It will be enough for Bartow to know that Japazy is dead and that his long-lost son is discovered. What a day this has been, Amory! And poor Bartow knows nothing of it!"
They talked for some time longer while Gibo stolidly fed the blaze and Bomba stared into the fire, seeing pictures in the flames that would have been incomprehensible to the white men.
The white men! How much they knew! They talked a different language from his. They came from a different world. Bomba wondered a little sadly if he ever would understand them.
Long after the white men were asleep Bomba sat with Gibo before the fire thinking of the wonderful events of that red-letter day in his life. His heart throbbed with elation. He had never been so happy in his life. At last he had solved the tormenting mystery of his birth.
Yet with the joy was a deep burden of responsibility. He had his father—true. But that father was sick, wounded, and in a jungle infested with savage beasts and ruthless men. It would be a heavy task to win through to safety.
He shared watches with Gibo through the night, and at early dawn the whole party was astir.
The condition of the sick man seemed to be the same as before. There was no inflammation of the wound; the fever was no higher. Still he was oppressed by a great weakness, an overwhelming desire to sleep. Although they tried to arouse him from the semi-coma into which he had lapsed, their efforts ended in failure. Andrew Bartow lay as one dead, insensible to what went on around him.
Bomba forced some broth upon him and again dressed his wound. Then they took up their journey, the three others taking turns in carrying the litter while Bomba marched a little in advance.
They were passing through an unusually heavy patch of woodland when a brilliantly hued parrot fluttered down from the branches of a great tree and perched on the jungle boy's shoulder.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Larlett, making as though to draw his revolver from his belt, "I must have that fellow for my collection. Never saw a finer specimen. Stand perfectly still, Bomba, till I pot him."
The jungle boy's eyes flashed fire.
"Who touches Kiki must reckon with Bomba," he said. "The white man's life shall pay for that of Kiki!"
THERE was no mistaking the deadly earnestness of the jungle boy's words, and Larlett stepped back, amazed and disconcerted.
"Kiki!" he said to Bromfield. "What on earth does the boy mean? But look! He's talking to him!"
"And the parrot seems to be talking back to him," returned Bromfield, equally bewildered. "Surely this is a land of magic and the lad's the chief magician."
"Kiki is a friend of Bomba," explained Gibo in a matter-of-fact way. "Bomba saved Kiki's life when Geluk the puma was about to slay him. It is Geluk's skin that Bomba wears upon his breast."
The white men looked at each other and shook their heads.
"You and I are just two babes in the woods," muttered Larlett, and let it go at that.
Bomba, in the meantime, had been smoothing the bird's feathers and talking affectionately to him. The parrot listened and then chattered back, totally oblivious of the startled men who watched the strange colloquy.
"Bomba's heart is glad that he sees Kiki again," the jungle boy murmured. "It has been many moons since Bomba has talked with Kiki. But where is Woowoo?"
"Just listen to him!" murmured Larlett, in an awestruck tone.
"There are more things in heaven and earth than are even dreamed of in our philosophy," muttered Bromfield.
Kiki bent his head toward Bomba's ear and chattered something that the lad seemed to find no difficulty in understanding.
"So Woowoo is afraid of the strangers," he said. "Woowoo need not fear, for Bomba will protect him."
He raised his head and gave a peculiar call. As though only waiting for that signal, the foliage parted and another parrot fluttered down and perched on Bomba's other shoulder, pecking affectionately at the lad's ear. Bomba patted the bird caressingly.
"If Bomba had his harmonica with him that the other white men gave him, he would play for Kiki and Woowoo the music that they love to hear," Bomba said. "But it was lost in the jungle. If the bright eyes of Kiki and Woowoo see it, they must come and guide Bomba to the place where it is."
They chattered what apparently was an assent.
"Can you beat that?" murmured Larlett to his companion.
"If I see many more things like this, I'll fear that I'm losing my mind," returned his companion.
"There is none like Bomba in all the jungle," said Gibo, proudly. "The harmless things love him. The savage things fear him. He is swifter than the deer, more cunning than the fox, more terrible than the jaguar. Great is Bomba, king of the jungle!"
His panegyric would doubtless have continued indefinitely had not Bomba just then brought the queer conference to a close.
"Bomba would be glad to talk with Kiki and Woowoo until the shadows of night fall," said the jungle boy, as he gave the birds a parting pat, "but Bomba is on his way to the maloca of Hondura and he must get there before the evil men. He will see Kiki and Woowoo again as soon as he can."
The birds chattered a reluctant farewell, spread their wings, flew up into the trees, and were lost to sight. Without any indication that there had been anything out of the common in the odd conversation, Bomba signaled to his companions and again took up the line of march.
Larlett and Bromfield were simply dumbfounded. They were keen, alert men of the world, versed in all the phenomena of civilized life, perfectly at home in the great cities of the earth. Ordinarily they thought of the denizens of the jungle, when they condescended to think of them at all, as creatures of different and inferior clay, scarcely above the animals in importance and intelligence.
Yet here was this mere boy who dealt with forces and influences that they could not understand, dealt with them as a master, a boy with physical strength greater than theirs put together, a boy who talked with the timid things with affection, who faced fearful enemies without turning a hair, a boy whose keen intelligence, iron nerve, and indomitable will marked him out as the unchallenged leader of the expedition. In that wild jungle, compared with him they were mere infants. They felt strangely humble.
In a little clearing they stopped to rest. Gibo made a fire and they roasted the flesh of a capybara that had flitted across Bomba's path a little while before and been brought down with one of his arrows.
They had finished their meal and were resting for a few minutes before resuming their journey when Bomba's eyes became fixed on an object just behind Bromfield, who was sitting on the turf facing the jungle boy.
"Let the white man not move," Bomba commanded in a low tone, fixing his eyes compellingly on Bromfield.
The latter looked at him in surprise, but had the good sense to obey.
"Let the white man not move," repeated Bomba, "or the white man is dead."
What frightful peril menaced him, Bromfield did not know. But the others of the party knew. For their eyes had followed the direction of Bomba's and saw behind Bromfield's back a hideous, swaying head above a mass of coils, the head of a cooanaradi, the deadliest snake of the Amazonian jungle. Deadliest because of its venom, which kills within a few minutes after the fangs have been imbedded in the flesh. Deadliest because of its size, ten or twelve feet in length, far exceeding that of other poisonous snakes. Deadliest because of its speed, from which none that it pursues can escape. But deadliest of all because, whereas other venomous snakes strike as a rule only when stepped on or in their own defense, the cooanaradi attacks of its own accord, assails and chases as soon as it catches sight of an enemy. It fears nothing on earth. Only death can stop it.
The snake had come within six feet of the unsuspecting Bromfield. There it had paused and thrown itself into a coil to strike. Bromfield sat as rigid as stone, but the perspiration induced by the awful strain was pouring down his face in streams.
Softly, almost imperceptibly, Bomba's hand stole toward his bow which lay on the ground by his side.
Still with the same gliding movement, he fitted an arrow to the string.
Larlett watched him in an agony of apprehension. He fathomed the lad's purpose. But what chance had he of hitting that slender target, that swaying neck?
Almost imperceptibly Bomba lifted the bow to his shoulder.
Twang! The arrow sang on its mission.
THE arrow from Bomba's bow transfixed the cooanaradi's throat and the hideous reptile floundered and thrashed about in the agonies of death.
With a shout of delight Larlett sprang to his friend's side and caught him as he slumped over, utterly unnerved by the terrible ordeal.
"He did it! He got him!" cried Larlett, in uncontrollable glee. "Caught him right in the throat. Jove! What a shot!"
Bromfield's face grew even paler as he gazed with repulsion at the still quivering body of the reptile.
With a slash of his machete, Bomba severed the snake's head from its body. Then he recovered his arrow, cleaned the blood from it, and thrust it into his quiver.
Bromfield, as soon as he had recovered from his emotion, was profuse in his thanks to Bomba.
"You're wonderful," Bromfield declared.
"Such nerve! Such skill! I'd back you to whip a regiment."
Bomba did not know what a regiment was, nor did he care. He waved the praises aside.
"The white man was brave to sit so still," he returned. "If the white man had moved, the arrow would have been too late. Bomba is glad that he could help the white man. For Bomba, too, is white," he added, with pathetic pride.
"White! You're the whitest man—or rather boy—I ever came across!" ejaculated Bromfield.
Bomba did not quite see how that was, for his skin was certainly more bronzed than that of his white companions. The touch of slang in the use of the word went entirely over his head. But he knew that it was meant as praise, and his heart swelled with pride.
But he had little time to dwell on this, satisfying as it was, because of the weight of responsibility that rested on him. That had been heavy in the first place when he and Gibo were hastening to warn Hondura.
But at that time there had been only two of them, both versed in jungle lore and both traveling light. They could move through the jungle at a rapid gait. Now the party had been increased by three, all of them comparatively unfamiliar with this wild, primitive life, and one of them helpless and carried on a litter.
Bomba wondered that he had seen no traces of the head-hunters. He knew that, even when not in pursuit of any given object, they were accustomed to send out small scouting parties to give warning of the approach of possible foes.
It was surprising that some of these bands had not been encountered, especially as the chance of meeting some of them increased with every mile they advanced nearer to the maloca of Hondura.
There was a jabbering in the trees above, a jungle of shrill sounds that seemed equally compounded of joy and fear.
To the untrained ear, it was in nowise different from the chattering of the monkeys that had accompanied the party almost incessantly as it moved along.
"I wonder if those confounded monkeys ever give their tongues a rest," muttered Larlett.
"They're a good example of perpetual motion," observed Bromfield.
But Bomba had caught an unusual note in that jabbering, and he motioned the white men to keep silent. A moment more of listening resolved his doubts.
"Yes, it is Bomba, Doto!" he called. "Let Doto come down and see Bomba."
The branches above parted, and an unusually large monkey dropped down and landed lightly on its feet.
Larlett and Bromfield started back, but paused in astonishment as the monkey shuffled over to Bomba, who put out his hand and caressed the creature's head.
The animal snuggled up to the jungle boy and rubbed his head against the boy's breast.
"The heart of Bomba is glad because Bomba's eyes rest on Doto," said the lad. "Bomba was wondering why he had not seen his friend before. He feared that perhaps the jaguar or the anaconda had killed Doto."
The monkey snuggled closer. Then, as though recalling the real object of his visit, he stepped back and broke into an excited jabbering accompanied by frantic gestures.
Bomba listened intently and his face grew grave.
"So there are enemies of Bomba abroad in the jungle," murmured the lad. "Where are they, Doto?"
The monkey pointed ahead in the same direction the party was traveling.
"Are there many of them, Doto?" Bomba queried.
This time the answer was in gestures only, and Bomba studied the movements of the paws intently.
"It is well, Doto," the jungle boy said after a few moments of deep reflection. "It is good of Doto to give Bomba warning, and Bomba will not forget. And now Bomba must say farewell to Doto, for he has far to go and the time is short."
A parting pat on the head, and the monkey went up the tree and was lost to sight in the foliage.
Bomba turned to his spellbound companions.
"There are head-hunters abroad," he said. "There are not many of them—not more than six. They are scouts sent out by Nascanora. They may be looking for Bomba and Gibo or for the white men who came down in the great bird. It is not certain that they know we are near. But their ears are keen and their eyes are sharp and we must move as silently as the jaguar moves when he is stalking his prey. Let the white men get their fire sticks ready, so that, if there be too many for Bomba's knife and arrows, they may help. But let them not fire till Bomba gives the word, for the thunder of the fire sticks carries far in the jungle. It is better to kill without noise."
"Looks as though we were in for a scrap," remarked Larlett, as he examined his rifle.
"Looks as if Bomba was," corrected Bromfield. "That amazing young fellow seems to take it for granted that if there's any fighting to do he'll do it, with us as interested bystanders except in case of special emergency."
"He surely doesn't pass the buck," replied Larlett. "He takes the heaviest responsibilities as though they were trifles. I don't believe he knows what fear is. Well, I've given up trying to figure him out. He's in a class by himself."
With redoubled precaution the little party moved on, Bomba and Gibo on the alert for the slightest sight or sound.
They had progressed for perhaps an hour when Bomba abruptly stopped and lifted his hand in warning.
They stood in their tracks like statues.
The others had heard nothing, seen nothing that caused them alarm, but Bomba's face was uplifted and his dilated nostrils were sniffing the air. They watched him with curiosity and apprehension.
"It is the man smell," he announced after a few moments. "The head-hunters are not far."
He led the others apart from the trail into the densest growth of underbrush he could find where they were safely screened from observation.
"Gibo and the white men will stay here until Bomba comes back," he directed.
Like a shadow he vanished from their sight. And so noiselessly did he go that those left behind could not hear the crackling of a twig or the rustle of a shrub.
As the jungle boy advanced the scent of which he had been aware grew more pronounced. He dropped to the ground and wormed his way along with as little noise as a snake.
He reached the bushes that fringed a little clearing and, peering through, saw two brawny savages standing under the boughs of a great tree.
The tree had giant boughs that extended half way across the clearing. One of the lower boughs seemed to be twice as thick and heavy as the others. Beneath this the braves were standing, leaning on the hafts of their spears. A glance at the hideous emblems on their breasts told Bomba that, as he had surmised, they belonged to the dread tribe of the head-hunters.
Two of the half dozen, Bomba supposed, of the scouting party of which Doto had warned him. Doubtless their comrades were not very far away.
The warriors seemed weary and disgruntled.
"It is a waste of time," one of them grumbled. "The man whose feet were smeared with honey and the boy who helped him escape have been swallowed up in the black swamp. The demons of the swamp have got them."
"Aluma speaks wise words," assented the other, "but there are the other men who were in the stomach of the great white bird, the man who is tall, the man who is short, and the man who paints pictures. They have killed some of our comrades and Nascanora's heart will not be at rest until he has them in his power and can listen to their screams as they die the slow death."
Bomba shuddered as he remembered that one of the men to be tortured so horribly in the event of capture was his own father.
"The new medicine man says that the signs are not good for slaying the people of the Araos tomorrow," observed the other. "He says that Ruspak was wrong. It must be on the day after tomorrow that we take the heads of the men and women and children of Hondura."
Bomba pricked up his ears. This was good news. It gave him a day more than he had counted on to warn the people of Hondura, and he sorely needed that extra day because of the slowing up of the party owing to the weight of the litter on which the sick man lay.
There was a stir in the branches of the great tree. Bomba looked up. Now he knew why that one bough had looked twice as thick and heavy as the other!
What looked like a great black rope shot down like lightning and wrapped one of the savages in its folds. The doomed man was in the crushing coils of a giant boa constrictor!
INURED as he was to the terrors of the jungle, Bomba's heart stood still at the fearful sight.
Brutal enemy as the head-hunter was, he was still a man, and at all risks to himself Bomba would have prevented if he could the awful manner of his death.
But the attack had been lightning swift. Even as Bomba reached for his bow he could hear the bones of the doomed man crack under the crushing pressure. The victim was beyond all human help!
The man's companion had fled, shrieking with terror, intent only upon saving himself from a similar fate.
After the one fearful scream when those folds encircled him, there had come no other sound from the victim. His breath had been shut off. He struggled desperately for a few seconds and then hung limp. Death came quickly, if horribly.
The monster still exerted that frightful pressure until it had reduced the now silent figure to a mass of pulp. Then it gradually uncoiled, dropped its full length from the tree bough and began preparations for its horrid feast.
But in this it was cheated. Bomba had not been able to prevent the tragedy. But at least he could ensure that the loathsome monster would never claim another victim.
An arrow from his bow slew the reptile at the very moment it was beginning to reap the fruits of victory.
Bomba shuddered at the thought that, had the head-hunters not chosen that fatal tree for their lounging place, some of his own party might have fallen victim to that lurking reptile, for the clearing lay right in the way of his projected line of march.
Of one thing, however, he felt quite certain. The snake's attack had cleared the way for his own little band. He knew that the head-hunters, when apprized of the tragedy, would give that vicinity a wide berth. No one of them would take the chance of becoming possibly a second victim of the boa constrictor, of whose death at Bomba's hand they would not know.
"Well?" asked Larlett inquiringly, as the jungle lad rejoined them.
"It is well," returned Bomba. "There were head-hunters, but Bomba did not have to use his arrows. A snake crushed one of the evil men and frightened away the other."
Briefly he related the awful scene of which he had been a witness. The white men shuddered.
"The jungle is no pleasant place," muttered Larlett. "Death from below, death from above, death all around!"
"A place where only the fittest survive," observed Bromfield, "which explains why Bomba is here at the present moment."
They resumed their journey, and in a little while reached the clearing, now deserted save for the two motionless forms of man and reptile. They passed with averted glances and felt infinitely relieved when they had left the shambles behind them.
About mid-afternoon Bomba came across the track of a wild peccary, the pig of the Amazonian jungle.
But far from being the comparatively harmless domesticated pig of civilized regions, the peccaries, when in droves, are among the most formidable denizens of the jungle. Their sharp tusks can cut a man to ribbons in no time. The only resource when pursued by them is to get up in a tree and stay there until they have gone away.
More than once Bomba himself had come close to being a victim of their fury, and he had no desire to repeat the experience. So it was with great care that he assured himself that the tracks in question had been made by a single animal, one that had wandered from the drove. He was anxious to secure some of the delicious meat, in the hope that it might tempt the appetite of the sick man as soon as he was able to eat at all.
Adjuring the party to remain where it was, he made a short circuit to get the wind of the animal and had the satisfaction within a few minutes of discovering it feeding.
An arrow brought the peccary down and, slinging it over his shoulder, the jungle boy retraced his steps to the place where he had left the little caravan. He had not gone far before he was startled by the sound of a shot.
The white men were in trouble! What could that shot mean but that the camp had been attacked?
He rushed toward the spot and reached the clearing in time to see a startling tableau.
A jaguar was crouching for a spring at about twenty feet away from the defenders. Another mute lay dead almost at the feet of Amory Larlett, who held a smoking rifle in his hand.
As Bomba appeared, David Bromfield fired at the menacing jaguar, but missed.
The next instant a great tawny shape flashed from the underbrush and landed on the back of the jaguar.
Both explorers raised their rifles again to fire, but before either could pull a trigger, Bomba shouted to them to stop.
"Wait!" he cried. "We will see first how the battle goes."
"Either way will be bad for us unless we kill them both," declared Bromfield excitedly.
"Wait!" commanded the lad peremptorily. "Bomba has his reasons."
So great was the ascendancy the boy had acquired that the men withheld their fire, though against their judgment.
They looked upon a titanic struggle. The puma, a beast of great size and strength, was ferocity itself. Furthermore, it had the advantage of the surprise.
Its outstretched body lay like a fur rug on the back of its foe. Its teeth fastened in the jaguar's neck, holding with a grip like that of death. Its cruel claws were working like pistons, ripping the hide of its enemy.
In vain did the jaguar try to shake off its tormentor. The underbrush for yards about the scene of the struggle was flattened to the ground. The jungle reechoed to roars of pain and fury.
The beasts rolled over and over, the jaguar trying to get a hold upon some vital part of the puma's body. But the puma avoided most of these attempts, never relinquishing its own grip on the jaguar's throat.
Finally, the jaguar weakened. With a last convulsive effort it tried to shake off that deadly grip. Shudders ran all over its body and it lay still.
The puma got to its feet and stood over the body of its enemy, while from its throat came the exultant roar of victory.
Now Amory Larlett again raised his gun, but Bomba knocked the weapon up.
"Do not shoot!" he commanded. "It is Polulu, Bomba's friend."
In consternation, holding their guns ready for action in case of need, the explorers watched Bomba as he strode toward the giant puma. The animal turned, a deep growl in its throat. David Bromfield raised his gun, but he did not fire, for Bomba had dropped to his knees beside the puma and was patting its tawny head!
INTO the ferocious eyes of the puma came recognition and affection. Bomba tweaked the brute's ear caressingly.
"Good Polulu!" he murmured. "Brave Polulu! Bomba's heart rejoices to see him. There is none like Polulu in all the jungle!"
The ferocious beast began to purr like a great cat. It reached out its rough tongue and licked the hand of the jungle boy.
"Well, I'll be hanged!" cried David Bromfield, looking at Larlett helplessly. "The lad has the beast bewitched!"
"Polulu is Bomba's friend," said Gibo briefly.
The origin of that strange friendship dated back several years to a time when Bomba had come upon the great puma trapped in the jungle. A falling tree had caught and imprisoned a hind leg. The lad's heart had been touched by the creature's plight, and he had done all he could to alleviate it. He had brought food and drink to the brute and won its gratitude and affection.
Then he had freed the broken leg from the tree, bound it in splints, taken care of the puma until it was well and strong again.
From that time on, the devotion of the great beast to Bomba was unbounded. Whenever they had met in the jungle it had capered about the jungle boy and begged for caresses. And more than once in time of danger Polulu had saved Bomba's life by intervening when the lad had been attacked by beasts and human enemies.
Bomba ran his hands over the shaggy head.
"Polulu has slain the jaguar," went on the jungle boy, "but the blood is coming from some of the wounds made by the jaguar's claws. Bomba has something that will stay the blood and soothe the pain."
He took from his pouch some of the native ointment that had almost magical powers of healing and applied it to the puma's wounds. Polulu was lying flat on the ground now, submitting with evident pleasure and gratitude to the lad's ministrations.
The yellow eyes, glancing about, caught sight of the other white men with their weapons and a glare came into the eyes that was instantly subdued when Bomba spoke.
"They are good men," he said. "They are the friends of Bomba. And the friends of Bomba are the friends of Polulu."
"I wish I could be sure of that," muttered Larlett, whose apprehension, though abated, had not entirely disappeared.
"Yes, a mistake on that point would surely be awkward," assented Bromfield.
"Now," said Bomba, after he had finished his treatment, "Polulu shall eat."
With his machete he severed great chunks from the carcass of the peccary and fed them to the puma, who dispatched them all with avidity. Then the great beast rose and stretched itself and nuzzled its huge jaws into the palm of Bomba's hand.
It made no move toward departure, and seemed to take it for granted that it was to attach itself to the party.
But Bomba pointed toward the jungle.
"Polulu must go now," he said. "Bomba would be glad to have Polulu go with him on his journey, but the white men do not know Polulu as Bomba does, and their hearts would not be at rest."
The great beast seemed reluctant to obey, but as Bomba still pointed toward the jungle, it turned away and soon was lost to sight.
High in the sky a great bird came into view, soon to be joined by others that came nearer and nearer to the ground in great sweeping circles.
"Vultures," commented Bomba briefly, as he saw the eyes of his companions directed toward the birds. "They smell the blood of the dead jaguar. They will soon strip the flesh from the bones."
The adventurers had no desire to watch the grisly feast, and again they took up their march, Gibo carrying what was left of the carcass of the peccary slung over his shoulder.
Now Bomba began to notice landmarks of the jungle which told him that he was getting near to the maloca of Hondura. Not so near that they could hope to finish their journey that day, for the sun was sinking low in the west, but so near that they were reasonably certain to reach their destination in the early hours of the next morning.
Had the directions of Ruspak held good, the next day would have witnessed the attack of Nascanora on Hondura's village. But the change made by Ruspak's successor had given an additional day of grace. Even at that, the time to prepare for defense would be short. Yet much could be accomplished in twenty-four hours.
Another element of satisfaction lay in the fact that Bomba now was not only bringing warning but reenforcements in the persons of Larlett and Bromfield. To be sure, they were only two, but their value as fighting men was vastly increased by the fact that they were armed with rifles.
They saw no further trace of their enemies that afternoon, although they kept a most vigilant lookout. The attack of the boa constrictor and the terrible death of their companion had probably demoralized the head-hunters to some extent, and they would keep away from a section that they probably deemed accursed. Furthermore, Bomba knew from the conversation he had overheard between the two braves that the savages had no inkling of the proximity of his own party.
Still he took no chances. His ears, his eyes, his nostrils were constantly on the alert. He had to watch not only the ground beneath but the trees above, for the tragic death of the headhunter was ever in his mind.
Night fell, and the little group encamped in a cave that Bomba's keen eyes had detected under a great ledge of overhanging rocks.
They did not venture this time to build a fire in the open, lest it should attract the attention of their enemies. But in the rear of the cave they made a small blaze over which they roasted some of the choicest and most succulent parts of the peccary and had the best feast they had enjoyed for days.
Andrew Bartow was considerably better than he had been since his collapse. The wound was healing satisfactorily and the fever was almost gone. He was able to eat mechanically some of the meat that Bomba fed to him in small shreds. But his mind was still clouded and he made no response to the questions that Bomba addressed to him from time to time. He did not recognize his companions nor the situation in which he found himself.
Still, it was clear that he was recovering, and Bomba's heart was filled with elation. It would have been maddening to have had his father taken from him just when he had found him.
Yet the lad's joy was tempered with profound anxiety. His father was still surrounded by terrible dangers. Even if Bomba succeeded in bringing him safely to the maloca of Hondura, the attack of the head-hunters was still to be reckoned with. What might happen to helpless Andrew Bartow in the battle that impended? Suppose Bomba himself fell in the struggle? Who would look after his father?
But there was no use in crossing that bridge till he came to it, and the jungle boy resolutely put those thoughts into the back of his mind while he again dressed the sick man's wound and made him as comfortable as he could for the night.
Larlett and Bromfield offered to stand watch by shifts during the night, but Bomba declined with thanks. That they would be vigilant he did not doubt, but their knowledge of jungle lore was not sufficient. A hundred things might pass unobserved by them that would excite the suspicion of himself and Gibo in an instant.
So he and Gibo did sentry duty by turns. Fortunately, nothing occurred of an alarming nature, and after a hasty breakfast the party again resumed its march.
"So you expect to reach the maloca of Hondura today, do you?" Larlett inquired of Bomba.
"Yes," replied the jungle boy. "Before the sun is three hours high we should be there."
They pressed forward with renewed energy. Bomba no longer had to take observations of the sun to determine his course. He was on familiar ground. He had hunted over every foot of this part of the jungle. He knew every tree, every rock, every cave. He could have found his way now to Hondura's village almost with his eyes shut.
But he was conscious of a growing uneasiness. The cause of this was nothing that he was willing to put into words. Yet by vague signs he knew that there were men at hand, invisible, almost inaudible, but gradually drawing nearer.
BOMBA halted abruptly.
"What is it?" murmured Larlett in a low tone.
"There are men near," returned the jungle lad. "Bomba does not know whether they are friends or enemies. But he will soon find out. Let the white men's guns be ready."
There was a fallen tree near at hand, and behind the heavy branches of this Bomba directed that the litter be placed. He ordered the explorers and Gibo to crouch close to the ground while he himself peered through the screen, which permitted him to see without himself being seen.
Then he lifted his head and sent the long quavering hoot of an owl through the jungle.
So quickly that it might have been the echo of his own, came an answering hoot.
Twice more Bomba gave the signal and twice more came the response.
Then with a joyous ejaculation the jungle boy sprang to his feet.
"They are friends!" he cried exultantly. "Let the braves of the Araos come forward. It is Bomba who calls."
As though by magic, bushes and rocks ahead of them seemed to spring into life and a dozen bronzed figures came running in the direction of Bomba's voice. The jungle boy crossed the trunk of the fallen tree with one leap and ran to meet them.
"It is the good Lodo that Bomba sees again!" he cried, as he embraced the stalwart leader of the newcomers.
The stolid face of Lodo relaxed into one of its rare smiles as he returned the embrace.
"Lodo's heart is light at the sight of Bomba," he responded. "Lodo had feared that he would not see Bomba again. There has been mourning in the lodges of the Araos, for they feared that Bomba had perished in his search for the Underground River."
The other bucks crowded around with grunts of satisfaction, for because of his marvelous strength and courage they had come to look upon the jungle boy almost as a god.
"There are others with Bomba," said Lodo, after the first warm greetings were over, "and one of them is carried on a litter."
"Yes," replied the jungle boy joyously. "The sick man is Bomba's father whom he has found after the many years of searching of which Lodo knows. And there is Bomba's friend, Gibo, and two white men who are friends of Bomba's father. They are all on their way with Bomba to the maloca of Hondura."
He led the way back to the hiding place of the group.
"And now," said Bomba, "let Lodo tell Bomba the things his heart is hungry to know. About Casson. Does he still live? And Hondura? And Pipina? And little Pirah?"
"Casson lives," replied Lodo. "He is frail and weak, but the cloud that was over his mind is lifting. He longs for the coming of Bomba. Hondura's body is old, but his mind still has the wisdom of the fox. Pipina is well and she takes good care of Casson. Little Pirah is the sunlight of the tribe. She speaks often of Bomba, whom she calls her big brother."
"It is well," rejoiced Bomba. "Lodo's words bring gladness to Bomba's heart. But there are other things that may make Lodo's heart heavy to hear. Does Lodo know that the head-hunters of Nascanora are on the warpath?"
Lodo started and his brow clouded.
"The head-hunters!" he exclaimed. "May their tribe be accursed!" He spat. "No, Lodo did not know. Lodo and his braves have been hunting at a far place and are just now returning to the village of their people. They have seen no signs of those men of evil."
"Yet they are in the jungle," replied Bomba, "and tomorrow they are planning to attack the maloca of Hondura."
He related briefly the capture and escape of Gibo and the other thrilling happenings of the last few crowded days while Lodo and his bucks listened intently.
"They are many in number, more than Nascanora has ever before brought to battle," Bomba concluded. "They have lost some men at the hands of Bomba and others by the fire sticks of the white men, but still they are more than the people of the Araos. And Nascanora's heart is bitter at the death of his medicine man, Ruspak, and his other losses, and he has sworn that the head of every man and woman and child of the Araos shall be placed on the roofs of his huts in the villages by the Giant Cataract."
A growl of rage went up from the dusky warriors.
"Nascanora is a boaster," Lodo gritted between his teeth. "He shall find how the Araos can fight. But Lodo must warn other hunting parties, so that they may hasten back to the maloca."
He selected four of his men to whom he gave hurried instructions, and they vanished in different directions.
Others were told off to carry the litter, relieving each other at frequent intervals, so that before any could grow really weary and slacken pace fresh arms and shoulders could take up the burden.
Under these conditions they made rapid progress and soon drew near the outskirts of the village. Even before it came into view, they could hear the laughter of children at their play and the songs of the women at their work. Evidently there had been no warning from any source of the approach of the hordes of Nascanora. Bomba shuddered at the thought of the shambles into which that peaceful, happy village would be transformed if the head-hunters had their way.
A shout of welcome rose from the throats of all who were in sight when they saw the returning warriors, and the shout grew in joy and intensity when Bomba was discerned walking in the lead with Lodo.
Shouts of "Bomba! Bomba!" rose on every side. As though by magic, the cabins were emptied of their occupants, and men, women, and children came rushing to meet the jungle boy.
Something like a dancing streak of light darted ahead of the others and, with a little squeal of delight, leaped into Bomba's arms. It was Pirah, the little daughter of Hondura, the pride and joy of the tribe.
Twice Bomba had rescued the little maid from captivity and probable death, once from the dread village at the Giant Cataract and again from the grim Valley of the Skulls. Bomba was her idol, and she clung to him closely, laughing and crying at the same time.
"Bomba has come! Pirah's big brother is with Pirah again," she cried. "Pirah was afraid that she would never see her big brother again. Oh, Pirah's heart is glad!"
"And Bomba's heart is glad that he sees little Pirah again," replied the jungle boy, as he stroked her soft hair and held her close to him.
But he had to relinquish her shortly, for other things were pressing for attention. He must see Hondura, the chief, and tell him of the threatened attack by Nascanora. And Casson! Where was Casson?
Even as he framed the question in his mind he saw the old naturalist coming in his direction as fast as his age and infirmities would permit him. He had learned from the wild outcries that Bomba had come, and he was trembling with joy and excitement.
Bomba made his way through the crowd and threw his arms about the old man's neck.
"Bomba! My dear boy!" quavered the old man. "Is it really you, here in the flesh? I had begun to fear that you had perished in the jungle and that these old eyes of mine would never look upon your face again. I am most joyful that you have been restored to me!"
"Dear Casson!" exclaimed Bomba, as he patted the old man's shoulder. "Bomba's heart rejoices to be with Casson again. And Bomba has brought with him an old friend of Casson's. Look!" and he pointed to the figure on the litter. "See if Casson remembers the face of the old friend."
"He is as one dead," murmured Casson, as he dropped on his knees and scanned the quiet face.
"But he is not dead," replied Bomba. "He was wounded in the jungle and has been sick for many days. But he is getting better and will live. Bomba has brought him to the maloca of Hondura to make him well again. Who is he, Casson? Tell Bomba."
The faded eyes were searching the face of the sick man with a growing recognition.
"It is—it is—" muttered Casson. "But no, it cannot be. Yet it is—" he searched his memory for the name.
"It is Andrew Bartow!" cried the jungle boy, unable to contain himself longer. "It is Bomba's father. Oh, Casson, Bomba has found his father!"
"Bartow!" cried Casson. "That is it, Bartow. Andrew Bartow, Casson's old friend."
The shock of the recognition seemed to swing wide open the door of his memory, locked for so many years.
"Yes, it is Bartow!" he cried. "The husband of Laura, the father of little Bonny that Japazy stole and carried into the jungle— Japazy of the black heart, whom Casson felled with one blow of his fist when he found out where he was hiding Bonny. Listen, Andrew. It was not Casson's fault that he did not bring Bonny back to you and Laura. He tried, oh, he tried! But he was alone, and the distance—and the wild beasts—and the savages—and—and—"
He was growing hysterical, and Larlett intervened.
"It might be well," he suggested, "to have us carry the litter to the cabin of Casson. There will be peace and quiet there, and Casson will be able to pull himself together. It will be better for Bartow, too, when he comes to consciousness, to be away from all this tumult."
"That is well said, Amory," observed Bromfield. "The more so as, from several things I've noted, Bartow is getting ready to emerge from his coma."
"The words of the white men are wise words," affirmed Bomba. "We go at once to the cabin of Casson. Pipina is there, and she is a wise woman in herbs and medicines. She will take good care of my father, as she has taken good care of Cody Casson. Come, let us be moving."
They bore the litter with its burden to the cabin, where they committed the patient to the care of Pipina, whose welcome of Bomba was as hearty and joyous as those that had preceded it.
Bomba stayed but to give some brief directions, and then hurried off to the house of Hondura, a structure much more pretentious than the rest, as was fitting for the dwelling of the chief of the Araos.
He noted the sudden change that had come over the populace. The shouts and singing had ceased. Fear spread its wings over the maloca. Bomba knew the reason. Lodo and his braves had told.
The head-hunters were coming!
BOMBA was admitted at once into the presence of Hondura. An attendant bodyguard pushed aside a curtain of the rude audience chamber and Bomba found himself facing the famous chief of the Araos.
Hondura was half sitting, half lying on a pile of cushions. His hair was gray, his face seamed with wrinkles. Yet under the shaggy brow still gleamed in his eyes the indomitable spirit and warlike courage that in his prime had made him the most powerful chief of the jungle.
He greeted the jungle boy with great cordiality and clasped his hands warmly.
"It rejoices Hondura's heart to see Bomba again," he declared. "Bomba is like a son to Hondura. He is a great fighter and his name has spread far through the jungle. Hondura wishes that he could leave his tribe in the hands of such as Bomba when he himself shall go to the place of the dead."
"It will be long, Bomba hopes, before Hondura shall go to the place of the dead," replied the jungle lad. "That will be a sad day for Hondura's people. But Bomba now must speak of other things, of hard things that will grieve Hondura's heart. Has Lodo said anything to Hondura?"
"No," replied the chief. "What is it that lies heavy on the heart of Bomba?"
"The head-hunters of Nascanora are on the warpath in the jungle," replied Bomba. "They seek the deaths of Hondura and of all the people of the Araos."
Hondura started violently.
"Those men of the black hearts from the Giant Cataract?" he exclaimed, grasping the spear that stood near by. "Is Bomba certain of what he says?"
"Bomba is not repeating idle words that have come to him," replied the jungle boy. "His own eyes have looked upon the camp of the head-hunters. His own ears have heard the evil words of Nascanora and Tocarora and Ruspak as they planned to take the heads of the men and women and children of Hondura's people. His own knife has found the heart of one of the head-hunters, his arrow has pierced the heart of another, and his own hands have crushed out the life of Ruspak."
"Bomba has done well. There are three less of the accursed ones that Hondura's warriors will have to fight. But when is it that the men of blood will come?"
"They will come tomorrow. It is for that time that their new medicine man says the signs are good. Whether it will be when the sun is shining or the night is black, Bomba does not know."
"Oh, that Hondura were young again!" cried the chief, in exasperation. "Oh, that his eyes were keen enough to aim the arrow, his arm strong enough to hurl the spear, his fingers supple enough to wield the knife, his feet swift enough to lead the charge. But old age has crept on Hondura and he is as weak as water."
"Yet Hondura is wise and Hondura's warriors are brave," returned Bomba. "The warriors will fight like demons for their homes and their wives and children. And there is Lodo to lead them—"
"Lodo is brave," interrupted Hondura. "He is a mighty warrior and he fears nothing. He will fight to the death. But though he has the courage of the puma, he has not great cunning. The wily Nascanora may outwit him. Courage will not avail if the mind of Lodo is clouded and his people are thrown into confusion. No, it is only Bomba that can take the place of Hondura."
"Bomba is in the hands of Hondura," replied the jungle boy. "He will do whatever the good chief says."
"There is none like Bomba in all the jungle," went on Hondura. "The head-hunters tremble at his name. He has crushed the face of Nascanora and shamed him before his braves. He has slain their medicine man, whom they thought protected by their gods. He has the strength of the jaguar and the wisdom of the snake. It is Bomba who will lead the warriors of the Araos."
"Hondura's words are Bomba's law," replied the jungle boy, thus accepting the responsibility thrust upon him.
The decision of Hondura ran like wildfire through the settlement and met with universal approval and acclaim. Even if there had been objection, none would have dared to voice it. As a matter of fact, there was none. Lodo himself was as enthusiastic as the rest. With the jungle boy to lead them they felt that the battle was half won at the start.
From the moment Bomba was placed in full command the settlement buzzed like a beehive. Every one was set to work. Knives were ground, spear points sharpened, bows restrung, and quivers filled with fresh arrows.
Strong barricades were built around the maloca. These were of logs, rocks and thorn bushes and had cunningly hidden exits whence the defenders could sally forth should they deem fit to take the offensive. The thatched roofs of the houses were drenched with water as a protection against fire-bearing arrows.
Runners were sent to the nearest friendly tribes asking for reenforcements.
Larlett and Bromfield were as eager as the rest to help and put themselves unreservedly at the service of Bomba, for whom their admiration increased hourly as they noted his cleverness, his coolness, his foresight, his utter absorption in the task at hand.
"As great a strategist as he is a fighter," commented Bromfield, as he cleaned and oiled his rifle.
"And that's going some," assented Larlett. "Yes, the lad's a born general. That mind of his works like lightning. And when it comes to scrapping—whew! Talk about whipping his weight in wildcats! That lad would whip a ton of wildcats!"
"Wonder what Andrew will feel like when he realizes the kind of son he has," remarked Bromfield.
"He'll be so proud we'll have to hold him down," prophesied Larlett. "I don't blame him. I know I would if I were in his place. It's maddening to think, though, that Andrew doesn't even know yet that his son exists."
"It does seem a queer twist of fate that he should hunt for the boy all these years only to lapse into unconsciousness as soon as he sets eyes on him," mused Bromfield. "But that coma of his won't last long now. I ran in there a few minutes ago, and he's coming along well. That old squaw is feeding him a brew that seems to be working like magic. He'll be himself again in a little while, or I miss my guess."
"More power to her," said his companion. "Perhaps she could give points to some of our civilized doctors. I'm learning more and more, old man, what a mistake we make in looking down on these primitive peoples of the jungle. They know a lot we don't give them credit for."
When Bomba had the work going in full swing he repaired to the hut of Casson for a hasty meal, for he had not eaten since early that morning and suddenly realized that he was very hungry.
The sick man was still lying with his eyes closed, but the lids were fluttering and there was every indication that he would soon awake.
Pipina put her fingers to her lips to motion silence as she set before Bomba the meal she had prepared for him.
"Will he get well, Pipina?" whispered Bomba, who had great faith—a faith that had often been justified—in the medical wisdom of the squaw.
"He will get well," Pipina replied in the same low voice. "The fever is gone. But he will be weak and he must not talk much at first."
Greatly relieved, Bomba turned to his meal.
Casson was sitting opposite him, and the jungle boy was struck by the change in his appearance. The shock of the morning had worked wonders. It had unsealed the gates of memory. The vacant look in the eyes had gone. The aged naturalist was the Casson of former times, before the bursting of the old gun had affected his mind.
"It is wonderful, Bomba," murmured the old man. "I seem to have been born again. All that happened in the past is coming back to me."
"May the Great Spirit be praised!" ejaculated the lad, delighted beyond words.
"If it had only come sooner," said the old man regretfully, "how much of danger and of journeying would have been spared Bomba in the search for his parents!"
"Let not Casson reproach himself," returned the jungle boy. "It was no fault of his that he could not remember. And, after all, what does it matter since Bomba at last has found his father?"
"Who speaks of Bomba's father?" came a faint voice from the sick man's couch.
BOMBA started violently at the sick man's words and turned toward the litter.
Andrew Bartow's eyes were open and in them was the light of intelligence, of sanity. They looked from one to the other of the group as though trying to identify them.
"Where am I?" asked Andrew Bartow. "And where are Larlett and Bromfield?"
"You are safe," replied Bomba in a voice that shook despite himself. "You are among friends. Larlett and Bromfield are not far away. They will come themselves to see you when they know you have waked from sleep."
"From sleep," muttered the sick man. "How long have I been asleep?"
"You have been sick," said Bomba softly, "and you have been carried through the jungle to a place where you are safe."
"The jungle!" repeated Bartow. "Ah, yes, the jungle. I remember now. The fight with the savages, the spear thrust in my arm. And then the jaguars—the jaguars!" His eyes fastened on the face of Bomba. "You are the boy who killed the jaguars!" he exclaimed. "The boy who saved my life!"
Bomba nodded. He could not trust himself to speak.
"You are brave, braver than I ever thought any native of the jungle could be," the sick man went on. "Your skin is dark, and yet you risked your life to save a white man. You could not have done more for me, if you had been my own son."
There was moisture in Bomba's eyes and a sense of choking in the throat.
"I had a son once," went on Bartow, as though talking to himself. "He would have been about your age if he had lived. But he was lost, taken away in the jungle. I have been hunting for him ever since. It was that which brought me here this time. His name was Bonny. He may be dead. But if he lives and you ever meet him in the jungle, tell him that his father Andrew Bartow is looking for him. I will tell you where he can find me."
His voice was dying away as he spoke, and Pipina intervened.
"He is weak," she said. "No more talk now. Talk later."
Bomba's heart was full to bursting. He yearned to disclose himself, but he realized that in his father's weakened state the surprise might prove too much. So he refrained and removed himself as Pipina gave the sick man a soothing draft and told him he must rest.
But much had been gained, Bomba told himself. His father was back to consciousness. It would be only a matter of hours, perhaps that very night, when he could make himself known.
He held his natural impatience in check and hurried back to his task of supervising the defenses of the maloca. This was the essential thing just now. It would have done him little good to find his father if that father should be taken from him in a welter of fire and blood on the morrow.
By this time most of the hunting parties had been found by the scouts sent out by Lodo, and the bucks came hastening in. Word had been received also from two neighboring friendly tribes that detachments of their braves would soon be on their way to join the defenders. For against the head-hunters it behooved all the tribes of the neighborhood to make common cause. If the Araos were destroyed by the fierce invaders, the turn of the other tribes would come next, and the whole region would be involved in the red holocaust.
Bomba sought out Larlett and Bromfield.
"My father has waked," he told them. "He was asking for the white men."
"Bully!" exclaimed Larlett. "That's the best news I've had for a long time."
"We'll go to him at once," declared Bromfield, preparing to suit the action to the word.
"Not now," said Bomba. "Pipina is making him rest again."
"She's the boss, I suppose," acquiesced Bromfield. "We'll see him as soon as he wakes. What did he say when he learned that you were his son?" he asked Bomba curiously.
"He does not know yet," replied Bomba, and gave a brief outline of what had been said.
"Just as well it should come to him gradually," remarked Larlett. "They say joy seldom kills, but I've known of instances where it has. The good news will keep. He's waited a good many years and a few hours more will make little difference."
"Have you had any report from your scouts yet as to the movements of Nascanora?" asked Bromfield.
"Yes," replied Bomba. "The men of Nascanora are coming nearer. Lodo's scouts have seen them from afar. By night they will be not more than three miles away."
"Too close for comfort," muttered Larlett. "Then it is quite certain that they will attack tomorrow, is it?"
"It is sure," replied Bomba briefly.
"By day or by night?" asked Bromfield.
"That Bomba does not know," replied the lad, "but we will know before the morning dawns."
"How will you find out?" asked Larlett.
"Bomba goes tonight to the camp of Nascanora," the jungle boy answered simply.
The white men were dumbfounded.
"Not alone?" exclaimed Bromfield.
"Alone," answered Bomba.
"But that is suicidal," cried Bromfield.
"Walking right into the jaguar's jaws," added Larlett.
"The teeth of the jaguar will not bite Bomba," he said. "They may snap, but Bomba will not be there."
"It's taking an awful chance," expostulated Bromfield. "If anything should happen to you, it will be a bitter loss to the maloca of Hondura, perhaps an irreparable one."
"Yet it is needful that Bomba should go," declared the lad. "But let not the hearts of the white men be heavy, for Bomba will evade the snares of the head-hunters."
"At least take some men with you," urged Larlett. "We ourselves will go with our guns, if you will let us."
"It is good of the white men to offer," returned the lad, "but though their hearts be brave, yet they know not the jungle. The braves of Nascanora would see them, hear them. They will not hear or see Bomba. For Bomba will be like a ghost."
The men could well believe that from what they had already seen of his wonderful woodcraft. Still, his going seemed like tempting fate and their hearts were full of dark forebodings.
The moon would not rise till late that night, for which Bomba was thankful. The less light there was the better it would be for his purpose.
Soon after night fell, Bomba summoned Lodo and gave him charge of the camp until he should return. He also directed him what to do in the event of his not returning.
Lodo listened intently and intelligently. He did not attempt to turn Bomba from his purpose. He had unbounded faith in the jungle boy's cunning, caution, and courage. If Bomba thought it best to go, it followed that it was best to go.
A word of farewell, and Bomba melted into the blackness of the jungle.
BOMBA realized to the full the danger of the undertaking to which he had committed himself.
It was not prompted by rashness. He was too intelligent to seek peril for peril's sake. There was enough of that he had to face without deliberately seeking for more.
He was impelled to the venture by the necessity felt by every general, of learning, if possible, the plans of the enemy while keeping secret his own. That of itself would be half the battle.
He needed this the more because of the disparity in force between his own warriors and those of the enemy. Even with the help promised by the friendly tribes, the head-hunters would have almost two men to his one. So what Bomba lacked in numbers he must make up in strategy, and he could not get the most out of his own plans unless he knew those of the enemy. The only place where he would be able to get that information was in the camp of Nascanora. He might get it from the gossip of the warriors, unaware of an unseen listener. Or it might come from the lips of Nascanora himself, as it had on a previous occasion.
Like a shadow Bomba drifted through the jungle. No snake ever moved more warily, more noiselessly. He felt certain that sentries would be posted in the jungle at some distance from the camp itself. If one of these discovered him and gave the alarm, his mission would be a failure, even if he himself should escape. For such a mishap would reveal to Nascanora that his presence in the jungle was known and that the people of the Araos were on their guard.
Bomba was anxious that the head-hunters' chief should remain under the delusion that his projected attack would be a surprise. With that impression, Nascanora would be much more likely to be careless in his attack, thinking that he would have little or no opposition to meet with.
For the same reason, Bomba hoped that there would be no occasion for killing any of the head-hunters he might meet that night. It would be a comparatively easy thing for him to creep up on some unsuspecting sentry and slay him. But the dead body would later be found and prove that the Araos were on the alert.
Moving as stealthily as a panther, Bomba in less than an hour came to a spot where he could see the lurid glare of a campfire and smell smoke.
As though that had been the signal for which he had waited, he seized a vine near at hand and swung himself up into a tree, for he had determined to use the aerial route in reaching the camp of Nascanora. It was certain that on the ground he would have to pass through a ring of sentries who had doubtless been warned to be extraordinarily vigilant that night. If they were located near to each other, it would be almost impossible for him to get through without detection.
But the thick foliage of the trees would screen him from observation, and the rustling, as he passed from tree to tree in the darkness, would be attributed to the monkeys in which the trees abounded.
In an incredibly short space of time, the jungle boy had made the journey and found himself in the leafy hiding place of a tree just within the edge of Nascanora's camp. He parted the thick screen of foliage and peered through.
The savages were sprawled about on the grass, finishing their evening meal. There were more of them than Bomba had thought. Doubtless Nascanora had called in all the scouting parties that had been scattered through the jungle in order to make his onset on the morrow the more overwhelming.
Bomba counted them as well as he could, and his brow gathered into an anxious frown as he saw how far his own forces were outnumbered. There would be bloody work on the morrow.
His eyes ranged the camp to find Nascanora. They detected him sitting apart in gloomy state at the foot of a tree some little distance from the one in which Bomba was ensconced.
The evil face of the chief of the head-hunters, already horribly deformed by the blow with which Bomba had crushed in his nose, seemed the embodiment of all fiendish passions. His eyes glowed with a lurid fire as though they were already gloating over his victims.
Again a wave of regret swept over Bomba that he had not finished his work on that memorable night when he had met Nascanora face to face. How many lives would have been saved had he sent Nascanora to the place of the dead!
But regrets were unavailing, and he softly swung himself from tree to tree until he reached the one under which the chief was sitting.
By the time he had accomplished this, Nascanora was no longer alone. Tocarora, his half-brother, had joined him and with him was another, whom Bomba knew from his ceremonial dress and feathers to be the new medicine man, the successor of Ruspak.
"It is well that Tocarora and Ganyuk have come," said Nascanora. "What has kept them away so long? It is not well to make Nascanora wait."
"Tocarora has been looking at the spears of the braves to make sure they are sharp, at their knives to see that they are keenly edged, and at their quivers to see that they are full of arrows for the fight with Hondura's people," explained Tocarora.
"And Ganyuk has been making incantations to his gods to learn from them the hour when it will be well to strike," said the medicine man.
"What is the message of the gods to Ganyuk?" queried Nascanora.
Bomba listened breathlessly. This was vital.
"They say, oh, Chief," replied Ganyuk, "that the time to strike is at night, one hour after the darkness falls on the morrow. Then will the gods strengthen the arms of the braves of Nascanora and give them the victory over the people of the Araos."
The chief ruminated over this. Even if the hour set had been against his military judgment he would not have dared to override the dictum of the medicine man. Yet his dignity demanded that he make a show at least of thinking it over.
"It is well," he said after a few moments. "The three calls of the parrot will be the signal for the attack one hour after the night falls on the morrow."
The medicine man bowed to the ground and retired.
"It is in Nascanora's mind," said the chief to his half-brother, "to divide the braves into two forces. Nascanora will lead one part and Tocarora will lead the other. Nascanora will attack the maloca from the east and Tocarora from the west."
"That is well," replied Tocarora approvingly. "The people of the Araos will be caught as between the two jaws of the alligator. Nascanora will be the upper jaw; Tocarora the lower."
"Yes," grunted Nascanora. "But the upper jaw will move first. For Nascanora and Tocarora will not attack at the same time."
"The words of the great chief are hard to understand," returned Tocarora, somewhat puzzled.
"Yet they are wise," replied the chief complacently. "This is what is in Nascanora's mind. If the people of the Araos know that Nascanora is in the jungle—and Nascanora does not know whether they do or not—they will have men at all parts of the maloca, at the west as well as at the east.
"Then if Nascanora and Tocarora attack at the same time, they will find the fighting men of the Araos facing them everywhere and the fight may be hard and long. But if Nascanora attacks on the east while Tocarora keeps his men silent on the west, the Araos braves will all rush from the west to the east where they will think all the warriors of Nascanora are gathered. Then will be the time for Tocarora and his men to rush in from the west and strike the Araos from the rear. They will be dismayed and surprised and thrown into confusion. Then will the jaws of the alligator close."
"Great is Nascanora!" exclaimed Tocarora. "He is more cunning than all the serpents of the jungle."
"There are two things more," went on the chief. "Tomorrow let Tocarora send some of his most trusted scouts to spy out the jungle as close as they can get to the maloca of Hondura and yet not be seen. Let them find out if they can whether the Araos are quiet or fearful, whether they sing and dance, or whether weapons are in their hands and their brows black with care."
"It shall be done," promised Tocarora.
There was silence for a moment.
"There was one thing more that was in the mind of Nascanora," ventured Tocarora.
"It is this," said the chief. "If the white boy whom they call Bomba be in the maloca of Hondura, let him not be killed. He must be captured but not killed, for Nascanora must hear him scream, must see him writhe and dance in agony, must hear him pray for the death that will be so long in coming."
His face as he said this was demoniacal.
"It will be hard to take him alive," said Tocarora dubiously, "for he fights like a demon. There is none to match him in strength and skill. He will kill many of our warriors before he will be taken alive."
The chief's face darkened.
"Who dares bandy words with Nascanora?" he thundered. "If he kill ten, twenty of Nascanora's braves it does not matter. He must be taken alive. Nascanora has spoken."
"It shall be as Nascanora says," replied Tocarora submissively.
He left the spot, ostensibly to instruct the braves relative to Bomba but really to escape from the presence of Nascanora, who in one of his black rages was capable even of destroying his brother.
Nascanora himself rose a few minutes later and paced moodily to and fro on the confines of the camp.
There was no use in staying longer in his leafy perch, and the jungle boy once more made his way through the trees until he knew that he must have got beyond the outermost line of sentries.
Then he slid down a tree to the ground and swiftly made his way back to the maloca of Hondura.
His heart was singing within him. He blessed the impulse that had prompted him to undertake that hazardous journey. For now he knew the enemy's plans almost to the last detail. He could govern his own strategy accordingly. He no longer needed to guess. He knew!
He gave the hoot of the owl, the Araos signal, as he neared the settlement. A few moments later he slipped inside the palisades to be received with open arms by Larlett and Bromfield and a grunt of satisfaction by Lodo, the only ones who were in the secret of his adventure.
"Well?" said Larlett inquiringly.
"It is well," replied Bomba. "The head-hunters will come. But they will come to their deaths."
THE explorers and Lodo crowded around Bomba and listened eagerly as he told them of Nascanora's plan of campaign that he had overheard.
"Great!" exclaimed Larlett, when the lad had finished. "That gives us the whiphand. They've delivered themselves into our hands."
"What a surprise party is in store for them!" chuckled Bromfield. "They'll be standing on their heads. Nobody but you, Bomba, could have pulled that off. But, Great Scott, lad, what chances you took! It makes me shudder to think what would have happened to you if they'd caught you."
"But they did not catch Bomba," said the lad practically.
One thing gave him unqualified satisfaction. He had almost twenty-four hours now before the attack would be made. That knowledge alone, he thought to himself, was worth the risk he had run. That much more time to strengthen his defenses! That much more time to perfect his strategy! That much more time for the reenforcements that had been promised by the friendly tribes to reach the maloca!
"Well, now that you've got their plans, what are you going to do to meet them?" asked Larlett.
"There are many things to be done," replied the jungle lad. "Bomba must think."
"And when it comes to thinking, there's nobody in this neck of the woods that can do it better," remarked Larlett in an undertone to his fellow explorer.
"There will be no attack tonight," said Bomba, "and the long hours of the darkness will bring counsel to Bomba. But there are some things that have come to him as he made his way through the jungle."
He turned to Lodo.
"The scouts of Nascanora will creep near in the morning," he said, "to see whether the people of the Araos know of the presence of the head-hunters in the jungle and are getting ready to fight them or are happy and at peace without any thought of war. Let Lodo give word to his warriors that they keep themselves concealed. Let the old men of the tribe sit at their doors dozing in the sun. Let the women sing as they go about their work and gather to talk at the river bank. Let the children play at their games. Then will the scouts go back to their chief and tell him that the Araos do not know that he is near. Then will Nascanora's eyes be blinded and he will think his task is easy."
"It shall be done," grunted Lodo.
"Another thing," went on the jungle lad. "Nascanora will come from the east. Tocarora will come from the west. On both sides let Lodo's men heap up some piles of grass and twigs and pour oil over them. Then when the parrot calls sound in the jungle and the head-hunters rush forward, let flaming arrows be shot into the piles. They will burst into flames and reveal the enemies so that we can shoot straight and shoot to kill. We will see them and they will not see us."
"First-class strategy," muttered Larlett.
"The boy's a born general," declared Bromfield.
"It shall be done," grunted Lodo.
"Bomba is counting much on the white men," continued the jungle boy. "The head-hunters fear the fire sticks that spit flame and speak thunder. You," he addressed himself to Larlett, "will stay with Bomba on the east. You," he directed Bromfield, "will be with Lodo on the west. So will the head-hunters think there are fire sticks everywhere and their hearts will fear."
"We'll give them plenty to be afraid of," promised Larlett, and Bromfield nodded emphatically.
"Now it is time to sleep," said Bomba, "for there will be no sleep on the night of tomorrow. Let Lodo set a strong guard, but tell the rest of his braves to get good sleep."
"It shall be done," replied Lodo.
He hurried off to carry out Bomba's instructions while the jungle lad repaired with Larlett and Bromfield to the cabin of Casson.
Pipina opened the door and put her fingers on her lips.
"He sleeps now," she warned.
"No, I'm not asleep," came in weak denial from the couch. "Who is it? Why, hello, Amory! Hello, Dave! Jove, but it's good to see you boys again!"
In a moment Bromfield and Larlett were at the sick man's side, each clasping a hand.
"Thank goodness that you're yourself again!" exclaimed Larlett, in deep emotion.
"It's almost as though you'd risen from the dead," declared Bromfield.
"Guess I have been pretty nearly dead, at that," replied Andrew Bartow, with a faint smile. "You boys have been wonderful to bring me through the jungle the way you did."
"We?" exclaimed Larlett. "Say, Andrew, get this thing right. The one you have to thank is the jungle boy—the one who saved you from the jaguars. Of course, Dave and I have done what we could, but if it hadn't been for that lad the bodies of all three of us would have been food for the vultures. That boy's a wonder!"
"A phenomenon of nature," added Bromfield. "The heart of a lion and the strength of an ox. There's nothing can match him. He fears absolutely nothing. Jaguars, boa constrictors, alligators, savages—he takes them all on without turning a hair. Honest, I feel like a child beside him."
"And with all his physical strength and courage he has a brain that acts like chain lightning, the soul of a poet, and the instincts of a gentleman," chimed in Larlett.
"He's a marvel, sure enough," agreed Andrew Bartow. "I've felt a strange drawing to him since first my eyes rested on him. Gratitude, I suppose."
The explorers exchanged glances. Larlett's look telegraphed: "Shall we tell him?"
Bromfield's eyes telegraphed back: "Yes."
"I shouldn't wonder if it were more than gratitude, Andrew," said Larlett gently.
He beckoned to Bomba, who had been standing a little in the rear.
"Come here, Bomba," he said.
The jungle lad complied, his eyes fixed hungrily on the sick man's face.
Andrew Bartow put out his hand and Bomba grasped it convulsively. He was trembling. He, Bomba, who never trembled before his enemies, was trembling like a leaf!
"My friends have been telling me more about you," said Andrew Bartow, "telling me that if it had not been for you they, as well as I, would have perished in the jungle. I want to thank you again with all my heart. You are wonderful. If my own son is alive and I ever find him, I could ask nothing more than that he should be like you. Your skin is dark, but your heart is white."
"Even white skins grow bronzed and tanned under the jungle suns," remarked Larlett casually.
"I suppose if you should find your son, he would be almost as dark as Bomba," put in Bromfield.
Andrew Bartow started.
"I never thought of that," he said. "In all the years I have been hunting for him, I have always thought of him as the fair, golden-haired baby that he was when he was stolen from us. I have his picture as he was then. I have always carried it next my heart."
He fumbled at his breast and brought out a photograph in a waterproof case.
"Here it is," he said, exhibiting it. "My precious baby!" His voice was husky. "Isn't he beautiful?"
They looked at it. All of them were trembling now. Bomba saw the picture only dimly. His eyes were wet with tears.
"Oh, that scoundrel Japazy!" exclaimed Bartow. "If I can ever get my fingers on his throat—"
"Japazy is dead," interrupted Larlett.
"Dead?" exclaimed Bartow. "How—when—"
"He was killed in a combat with Bomba," said Larlett, "as it was fitting he should die."
"You? You killed him?" exclaimed Andrew Bartow, looking wildly at Bomba. "Why was it 'fitting' that you should kill him? Are you—"
"Andrew," said Bromfield gently, "are you strong enough to bear good news, wonderful news? Can you stand—"
Bomba could wait no longer. He tore away the puma skin, showing his gleaming white chest.
"Look, my father!" he cried. "I am white. I Bonny, your son! Oh, my father, my father!"
The next instant father and son were locked in each other's arms.
THE rapture of that reunion between father and son was beyond all words. All the pent-up emotions of the weary years they had been looking for each other found expression in fond embraces and incoherent expressions of delight. Questions and answers tumbled over each other, and it was a long time before either of them came back to a semblance of equanimity.
Larlett and Bromfield stood aloof, watching happily the denouement of the touching drama in which they themselves had played minor parts. Pipina was sobbing quietly and Casson's features were working convulsively.
Bomba and his father drew apart at last, their faces radiant with the joy of reunion.
"And Casson?" asked Andrew Bartow. "What of him? I suppose by this time he is dead."
"No, he is alive and here," replied Bomba. "It was he who struck down Japazy and took Bomba away from him to a place so deep in the jungle that he could not get out again. He has been a father to Bomba. Come, Casson! It is Bomba's real father that calls for his good friend, Casson."
The old naturalist rose from his seat and hurried over to the couch, where the two old friends, separated for so many years, threw their arms about one another. Both were deeply moved, and it was some time before they could find voice.
"My dear, dear friend!" exclaimed Andrew Bartow. "It was you that rescued my son from the villain, Japazy, and have been a father to him through all these years! How can I ever repay you? How can I thank you enough?"
"You need not thank me, Andrew," replied Casson. "Bomba has been my stay and support for years, has done far more for me than I have ever done for him. He is the bravest, strongest, kindest lad that ever lived. Your heart should rejoice in such a son, Andrew."
"It does," replied Bartow. "It is swelled almost to bursting. This is the happiest moment of my life. And how his mother will rejoice when she hears the news of his finding!"
"Laura, dear, beautiful Laura!" exclaimed Casson. "How often her image has come before my mind! Where is she? Is she well?"
"She is in Rio de Janeiro," replied Bartow. "Yes, she is well in body and more beautiful than ever. But her heart has been agonized by her loss, and she will never be happy until Bonny is restored to her. Oh, how I wish there were some way of telegraphing to her the glorious news! But we will not wait. This happiness will make me strong again. We will start tomorrow."
The other members of the group exchanged glances.
"Hardly tomorrow, Andrew," said Larlett, coming forward. "In the first place, you are not strong enough yet for such a journey. And then again—" he hesitated.
"We might as well tell Andrew the truth," broke in Bromfield. "The fact is, Andrew, that we are on the eve of a battle. The savage head-hunters have surrounded the settlement and plan to attack tomorrow night."
"Is that so?" replied Bartow, the light of battle coming into his eyes in a way that made Bomba proud to see. "Then I'm in this scrap, too. I may be a little shaky in the legs, but I'll be able to handle a rifle."
"No, Father," said Bomba, his heart thrilling at the unfamiliar word. "Bomba will fight for both of us."
"For both!" exclaimed Larlett. "You'll be as good as twenty men. But Bomba is right, Andrew. You're in no condition to take an active part in the fight. Leave the whole thing to Bomba. He's in chief command here, and he's already laid out a plan of battle that's sure to win. There's nothing on two legs, or four for that matter, that can lick this son of yours."
"I've found that out already," said Bartow proudly. "All the same, I'll get in the fight somehow. Even if I can't get up, I can shoot from the window or the door."
"Well, we'll see," said Bromfield soothingly. "And now, if I may suggest, you've had excitement enough for one night, old fellow. I know you and your boy would like to talk together all night, but it can't be done. You'll have plenty of time for that after the head-hunters have been whipped. You've found your son. Be thankful for that and try to get to sleep."
"I'm too happy to sleep," returned Bartow. "I shall just lie here rejoicing. But of course you're right. Bomba must get his rest for the struggle of tomorrow."
Father and son tore themselves apart reluctantly, and in a few minutes the inmates of the cabin were wrapped in quiet if not in slumber.
Early in the morning, after a hasty breakfast and a few minutes of affectionate conversation with his father, who seemed to be recovering his strength by leaps and bounds, his happiness acting as a tonic, Bomba was abroad in the maloca.
He found that his orders had been carried out to the letter by Lodo. The women of the tribe had been notified of the part they were to play, and they did it with smiling faces if with quaking hearts. There was nothing in their demeanor as they wove and cooked in their cabins, crooning their tribal songs, or sauntered about the village, stopping to indulge with friends in gossip, to indicate apprehension. Old men dozed and smoked in the sun. The children—the only ones who were not actors—played about as usual.
Lodo's sentries had been called in so that Nascanora's scouts might creep as near as they chose, to assure themselves that there was no abnormal feature in the customary peaceful life of the people of the Araos.
Piles of shrubbery and twigs, dry as tinder, had been soaked in oil and scattered carelessly about at a certain distance outside the borders of the settlement. Men were told off whose special duty it would be to send fire-bearing arrows into the piles to make them burst into flames.
Gibo was assigned by Bomba as a special guard for Casson's cabin. The native accepted the duty reluctantly.
"Gibo would fight beside Bomba," he said. "If Bomba dies, Gibo will die with him."
"And Bomba would like to have Gibo at his side," replied the lad, touched by the faithful fellow's devotion, "but the cabin holds the most precious things in life for Bomba. It is a place of honor that Bomba gives to Gibo because he trusts him above all others."
This put a special complexion on the assignment and Gibo ceased his grumbling.
Bomba decided that he himself would take charge of the east side, where Nascanora would attack and where the fighting would probably be the heavier. Larlett, with his rifle, would act as his lieutenant.
To the western defenses he assigned Lodo and his detachment, with Bromfield as an aid.
"Let Lodo listen well," said the jungle boy. "When Nascanora begins the attack, Tocarora, on the side where Lodo is, will expect whatever warriors may be there to rush over to the side where Nascanora is fighting. Then will Tocarora burst through the defenses to stab the warriors of Lodo in the back.
"Let Lodo do this. When Nascanora's battle cry is raised, let Lodo's men yell and start to run, just as Tocarora thinks they will. The enemy will rejoice and think Lodo has fallen into their trap. They will come rushing on without order. Then let Lodo and his braves turn suddenly and fall upon Tocarora men as the jaguar leaps upon his prey. They will be surprised and confused, and Lodo will strike and spare not."
"It shall be done," replied Lodo.
Before nightfall all of Bomba's preparations were complete, and as soon as the shadows veiled the movement, the warriors, fully aware of what was expected of each of them, stole out of the places where they had been hiding throughout the day and took the posts assigned to them.
On his last hurried visit to Casson's cabin Bomba had found his father up and dressed and cleaning his rifle. Bomba remonstrated, but Andrew Bartow was firm.
"This gun of mine ought to account for a few of the wretches," he said, "and you can trust me to make every bullet tell. No lying in bed for me when fighting's afoot! At least I can help your friend, Gibo here, defend the cabin."
Expostulation failed to move him, and Bomba could see where he had got his own stubborn resolution. But though apprehensive, Bomba was proud. His father was a man!
The darkness deepened. An hour to wait! Slowly the minutes dragged by.
Three parrot calls came from the jungle. Then, with fiendish yells that seemed to come from the throats of demons, the head-hunters charged!
A SHOWER of arrows came from the bows of the head-hunters as they rushed forward. But the defenders, lying flat on the ground behind their barricades, were unharmed.
At the same instant, the Araos who had been told off for that purpose shot their fire arrows into the heaps that had been soaked in oil. With a terrific roar the heaps leaped into flame, revealing the features of the charging horde.
"Shoot!" shouted Bomba.
A host of arrows sped from the bows of the Araos, and as in the bright light of the fires the archers were able to pick out their targets, a large number of the enemy went down.
With the arrows went bullets from Larlett's rifle, each finding its mark, and the roar of the fire stick, combined with the execution it did, still further increased the enemies' consternation.
They were getting more than they had bargained for. Instead of finding a helpless town, ignorant of danger, they had been met by a shower of missiles of death. Thus far Bomba's strategy had counted.
But after the first shock had passed, the head-hunters rallied and came on, sending a hail of arrows ahead of them.
The head-hunters reached the barricades and tried to swarm over them. They had slung their bows over their shoulders and were now depending on their spears and knives.
A terrific hand-to-hand struggle ensued. The Araos, too, were now fighting with the same weapons, and the thrusts were blended with the grunts and yells of the combatants and the screams of those mortally stricken.
Bomba was here, there, and everywhere, fighting like a tiger, his knife rising and falling like lightning, every stroke accounting for a foe. Larlett's rifle barked with deadly effect. And the Araos, inspired by their leader's example, fought like demons.
A few minutes of this fearful fighting and the head-hunters broke and retreated, leaving the ground strewn with their dead and dying.
Had they been the only force opposed to him, Bomba would have leaped the barriers at the head of his men and pursued, turning the retreat into a rout. But his ear had caught the sound of a desperate combat on the other side of the maloca, and, leaving a sufficient guard on the front that had just been attacked, he rushed over with most of his men to the west.
Lodo had carried out his instructions to the letter. He had made the feigned rush to help Bomba, and then had turned suddenly and hurled his bucks against the hosts of Tocarora who had attacked as soon as his back was turned.
The enemy had been confused by the stratagem, as Bomba had foreseen, but though many of their men fell in the first surprise attack, some had burst through the barricades and the fighting was hand-to-hand.
The head-hunters were vastly superior in numbers, and though Lodo and his men performed prodigies of valor, the issue might have been doubtful if it had not been for the arrival of reenforcements.
Bomba and his men burst on the enemy like a thunderbolt. There was no stemming the fury of their onset, and after a few minutes more of desperate fighting the enemy turned and ran.
The maloca had been cleared of foes, and the warriors of the Araos raised the chant of victory.
"That was one fierce fight," panted Larlett, as he came to Bomba's side.
"We've licked them good and proper," exulted Bromfield. "Guess they've had enough of our game."
Bomba shook his head.
"No," he said. "They will come again. We have gained all that can be gained by surprise. They know now what they have to meet. We shall not catch them asleep again. They have lost many men, but they still have many more than we. They are raging, and the next fight will be terrible. We must hold ourselves ready to meet them."
He disposed his forces to the best advantage and awaited the onset.
As hour after hour passed with the jungle wrapped in dead silence, it began to look as though Bromfield's prophecy might be justified. Then the storm broke!
Not from east and west alone, but on north and south, at every point of the circle, the head-hunters came on like a flood.
Then followed as fast and furious a battle as had ever been known in the Amazonian jungle. The enemy was fighting for revenge and loot. The Araos were fighting for their homes and lives.
No quarter was asked or given. It was a battle to the death.
In many places the assailants broke through the defenses. Once an opening was made, others swarmed in behind them and the maloca itself became the battlefield. It was a scene of unleashed elemental fury.
Bomba was fighting like a fiend, always where the battle was thickest, seeking especially for Nascanora and Tocarora, whom he had singled out as his especial prey. Sometimes he would catch sight of them, but before he could reach them groups of the battling warriors would intervene and other foes demand his attention.
The surge of battle carried him over near the cabin of Casson, and he saw Gibo engaged in a desperate fight with three assailants.
With a bound Bomba was on the spot. Twice his knife flashed and two went down, just as Gibo disposed of the remaining one.
There was shouting in the cabin and Bomba dashed through the doorway as a shot rang out. He was just in time to see a man release his hold of Casson's throat and fall sprawling to the floor. Bomba saw the convulsed face. It was that of Tocarora! Andrew Bartow, on his couch, was holding a smoking rifle.
"Got him," Bartow said coolly. "I told you I'd get in this scrap somehow."
Bomba flashed his father a look of pride and affection and darted again out of the door and into the thick of the fight.
Tocarora had fallen by his father's rifle! That was good. Now for Nascanora!
A scream of mortal terror in a childish voice he knew chilled the blood in his veins.
He looked in that direction and saw the giant Nascanora dragging from a hut the little Pirah who had been hiding there among the women.
Nascanora knew who she was, for once before she had been in his power and Bomba had rescued her. The head-hunter's disfigured face glowed with fiendish delight. He held the daughter of Hondura, the chief of the tribe, the cherished darling of the old man's heart. Through the child he could strike at the father. He raised his knife as though to slay, but Ganyuk, the medicine man, at his side stayed his hand.
"Wait, oh, Chief!" he said. "Give her to Ganyuk. He will carry her into the jungle."
Nascanora threw the child to him. Ganyuk wound a hand in her long locks and dragged her after him.
Bomba had been struggling desperately to hew his way to the group. But Ganyuk was nearing the fringe of the jungle. Once in its depths, Pirah was doomed.
Bomba gripped the point of his knife and threw. The weapon whizzed through the air and buried itself in the villainous medicine man's neck!
With a horrible, choking sound, Ganyuk fell to the ground. In an instant Bomba was at his side and picked up the sobbing child.
"Here," Bomba panted, handing her over to Larlett, who was close behind him. "Take her to the cabin of Casson."
Larlett obeyed, and the jungle boy, drawing his weapon from Ganyuk's throat, bounded once more into the fray. A moment later he found himself face to face with Nascanora. Recognition on the chief's part was instantaneous.
"We meet at last, Nascanora!" cried Bomba exultingly. "Now let Nascanora call upon his gods, for Bomba is going to send him to the place of the dead!"
With a howl of rage, the chief lunged at Bomba with his spear.
Like lightning Bomba evaded the stroke, leaped upon Nascanora like a panther, and buried his blade in his heart.
That stroke virtually ended the battle. Howls of dismay from the head-hunters greeted the fall of their chief, and they broke and ran, pursued and cut down by the scores by the exulting warriors of the Araos.
It was a long time before Lodo and his men returned, and when they did the power of the head-hunters was utterly broken. They had been hunted down like rabbits, and few, if any, ever found their way back to their distant home by the Giant Cataract. Nascanora, the dreaded chief, was dead. So was Tocarora, the second in command. Their two medicine men had been killed. The flower of the tribe had fallen, and not for generations to come would they bring fire and blood among the Araos and the other peaceful tribes of the jungle.
A number of the Araos also had fallen, but they had died for their families and their homes, and grief at their death was tempered by the thought of the deliverance they had brought.
Information was gained from some of the dying head-hunters as to the whereabouts of the books and papers that Bomba and Gibo had won at such risks, and they were recovered. They were not so necessary now as they had been, since Bomba had already found his parents, but they proved intensely valuable in piecing out many obscure points in the history of Jojasta, Japazy, and others who had been instrumental in the villainy that had led to Bomba's immurement in the jungle.
If Bomba had been honored and loved before, he was now looked upon almost as a god by the chief and people of the Araos. Little Pirah fairly worshiped him. It was universally recognized that without his magnificent generalship and fighting ability the battle would have been lost. He was lauded to the skies.
As Larlett and Bromfield, in the cabin of Casson, told of the feats he had wrought, Andrew Bartow's heart filled almost to bursting with pride.
"And this is my son!" he exclaimed. "What a son!"
The father's exclamation was echoed by the mother's when, a few weeks later, Laura Bartow arrived at the maloca of Hondura.
Larlett and Bromfield, with a strong escort of natives headed by Lodo, had made their way through the jungle to Rio de Janeiro. There they had revealed the glorious news to the grieving mother and filled her heart with joy and thanksgiving.
An airplane was secured and in a rapid flight reached the maloca of Hondura. When Laura Bartow descended from it, her features radiant, Bomba thought he looked upon the face of an angel.
"Mother! Mother!" he cried, as he folded her in his embrace.
"My Bonny! My Bonny!" she sobbed, as she clung to him convulsively. "I've found you at last!"
Bomba sat alone at the edge of Hondura's maloca.
Days had passed since his mother's arrival, happy days, rapturous days, that had passed as though on wings, days that were not long enough for parents and son to tell each other all that was in their hearts.
Andrew Bartow was strong and well again. In a few days the party, including Casson, were to leave the jungle for Rio de Janeiro. Thence they would go to the United States. Andrew Bartow was wealthy, and Bomba was to have every advantage of training and education that would make him at home in civilized surroundings.
Bomba shared his parents' happiness. He looked forward with elation to the new and wonderful experiences that lay before him. And yet—and yet—
Bomba sat alone at the edge of Hondura's maloca.
It was full moonlight. Far off on all sides stretched the silent, mysterious jungle that had been his home for as long as he could remember. The moon's rays silvered the foliage. The lure if the depths tugged at his heart.
"I will go to the cities and live with my father and mother," he told himself. "I will try to make them happy, as I know they will try to make me happy. But some day the jungle will see me gain. It is life to me. I cannot live without it."
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