The feeling that something had gone amiss in the camp during his absence was so strong with Ashman that he slowed his walk and stopped before emerging from the wood. He paused, however, at a point where he had a full view not only of the camp but of the river and dark shore beyond.
The sight which met his gaze was not calculated to soothe his nerves. From some cause Bippo, Pedros and Quincal seemed to have been seized with a panic, hardly less than that produced among their countrymen by the discharge of the firearms of Ashman. They were in the act of shoving the canoe back into the water in such haste that there could be no doubt they intended to flee from some enemy that had driven all thoughts of resistance out of their minds.
“What the mischief are you doing?” shouted the young man, dashing from cover and hurrying down the bank to intercept them before they could get away.
THE LAND OF MYSTERY.
The peremptory tones of Fred Ashman rang out loud and clear above the roar of the rapids and caused the servants to halt at the moment the canoe was shoved into the water. They looked up with frightened expressions and awaited his approach.
“What do you mean?” he demanded as he drew near.
Bippo, who was by far the brightest of the three, had shown a wonderful readiness in picking up a knowledge of the English tongue. He was so much superior in that respect to his companions, that they invariably left to him the duty of conversing with their masters.
“Dey’re ober dere,” he replied, pointing to the other shore.
“Who’s over there?”
“Perfess’r and Long man; we seed ’em, dey motion for us to hurry ober to ’em.”
This was astounding news and Ashman was mystified.
“How did they get over there? And why did they leave camp?”
“Don’ know; seed ’em; want us hurry.”
Without waiting to reflect upon the strange information, and recalling that more of the natives were likely to issue from the path at any moment, the young man stepped into the canoe, and, catching up one of the paddles, lent his help in propelling the craft across the foamy Xingu.
“Where Johns’n?” asked Bippo, when the middle of the stream was reached, and without ceasing his toil with the paddle.
“The natives killed him with a poisoned spear; you will never see him again.”
Bippo made no reply, but communicated the startling tidings to his companions, who muttered their amazement. It was apparent that the news had added to their panic, and they bent to their task with such vigor that the boat rapidly approached the other bank.
Fred was asking himself, that if his friends had managed to get across the river, why it was they were not in sight. He scrutinized the dark forest and the line of moonlit space in the expectation, of seeing them come forth to welcome him, but not a soul was in sight.