Ashman was just beginning to suspect some strange mistake had been made, when he suddenly saw the form of a tall savage with bushy head and a javelin in his hand, glide like a shadow into the darkness in front. A moment after, a second followed, then a third, fourth and fifth, the last carrying a long-bow, and all plainly seen by the whites at the side of the trail.
A few minutes later, Fred once more took the advance, reflecting that they were as likely to meet more of the natives as to have them overtake them.
The mystery was where they had come from in the first place. They could not have entered the trail at the camp where Ashman and Johnston had started on their little exploring enterprise. It looked as though they were hiding among the trees at the time the canoe approached the land, and may have followed the explorers soon after they started along the path with the purpose of cutting off their retreat. If such should prove to be the case, Fred felt that not only he and his companion were in danger, but all the rest were liable to be attacked by these natives, who, as has been stated, were the most athletic that had been encountered since leaving the Amazon.
“Fred,” whispered the sailor a little later, “they’ve turned back and are following us again.”
“Are you sure of it?”
“There’s no mistake about it.”
Fred was debating whether they should not turn again from the path, but he reflected that the natives having discovered the trick played on them, would be likely to defeat such a piece of strategy.
Before he could decide upon the best course, Johnston whispered:
“Run! it’s the only chance we’ve got!”
It seemed to be the only course left. Whether it was or not, it was too late to try anything else. That the natives had discovered the explorers was proven by several low, tremulous whistles which at that instant sounded on the night.
It was risky running along the dark trail, even though illuminated here and there by the rays of the moon: but, feeling that the situation was desperate, Ashman broke into a swift lope, with Johnston at his heels, urging him to make haste.
“If they come too close,” thought the young man, “we can dodge among the trees again and pick our way back to the river as best we can—helloa! what’s that?”
Well might he ask himself the question, for the whizz of something close to his ear left no doubt that one of their pursuers had hurled a poisoned javelin at them.
An instant after he heard a faint but peculiar noise which he could not describe nor identify. Johnston at the same instant uttered a suppressed exclamation, not intended for his ears, and he called out in a recklessly loud voice,
“Into the woods, quick!”
Ashman did not hesitate, but darted to his right, halting after a couple of steps, through fear of betraying himself.