The Professor was inclined to think their friend had gone farther down stream than he first intended; but, even if such were the fact, he hardly could have traveled so far that he would not have been well on his way back to the battle ground by this time.
The trend of the Xingu was such at this point, that the thin line of shadow along the wood on their left, as they passed down the river, steadily widened until it now almost reached the water itself. In a short time it would extend over the surface and afford the canoe that shelter which, had it come earlier in the evening, might have postponed the desperate conflict with the savages.
The move from above was merely to get away from the sights that met them at every turn; and, without seeking to drift to the point where Ashman was supposed to be waiting, the explorers turned the prow to land, which they touched a moment later.
It would have been more cheerful to have had a fire burning, but there was no other call for it. The mild temperature rendered it really more enjoyable without it, since the blaze was always sure to attract innumerable insects, and possibly might tempt the defeated natives to another effort to wipe out the deadly insults that had been theirs from the beginning.
It was not yet midnight, nor indeed anywhere near it, but the Professor volunteered to take his turn with Bippo for the remaining hours of darkness. But no such arrangement was necessary, since every member of the party was rendered wakeful by the exciting incidents, while the grief of Bippo and Pedros over the loss of their friend was sure to drive away all slumber for a long time.
The luggage was left in the canoe, where all the party would have stayed, had not their positions been so cramped as to render sleeping difficult. Their blankets were spread on the ground, where they reclined, talking in low tones, watching, listening, and speculating as to the cause of Fred Ashman’s continued absence.
Long was about to open his mouth to advance a new theory, when a slight sound apprised him that either the young man they were talking about, or some one else, was approaching.
A STRANGE ENCOUNTER.
Fred Ashman was standing near the edge of the Xingu, as will be remembered, when his attention was diverted for the moment by a puma, which came out of the wood, drank from the stream, and then, after a brief pause, returned to his shelter.
All this while, the dull roar of the rapids was in the explorer’s ears, and he was eager to withdraw his attention from the beast and direct it upon the opposite shore, where he was convinced something unusual was going on.
The minute the beast disappeared, he looked across at the point that had so interested him.
The question which he had asked himself some time before, was answered by the sight of a small canoe that was stealing down the river, instead of heading directly across to where he was standing. In this boat was a single individual, using a paddle with the deftness of an American Indian.