The forest, like all those in South America, was so dense that great care was necessary for one to pick his way through it. The Professor’s theory was that the savage with the spear would regulate his movements on the theory that the white man would not stir from the place where he had first halted. He would thus aim to secure a position from which he could hurl his javelin at him without detection. Grimcke conceived this was certain to take place, and, if he remained where he was, nothing could save him from the treacherous assault. It was a matter, therefore, of self preservation that dictated the brief retreat with the hope of thus disconcerting the savage.
The task which Grimcke had given himself was difficult indeed. The ground was unfavorable for the peculiar twitching movement which he hoped would carry him out of danger. He had gone barely a couple of yards when the bowman evidently suspected something of the kind, for he stopped short and stared inquiringly at the white man.
The latter extended his right hand as if to shake that of the savage, who stood motionless, making no sign of pleasure or displeasure. Indeed, he remained so fixed in his position that Grimcke was convinced he was listening for the sound of the other miscreant stealing through the wood. He plainly saw the black eyes cast a single inquiring glance in that direction.
“This is getting a little too threatening,” reflected the Professor, satisfied that the three natives were as venomous as so many serpents; “at the first move war is declared.”
His situation was so critical that he did not dare turn his head to look behind him, but never was there a more welcome sound to him than that made by the footsteps of the lank New Englander.
“Keep moving hack!” called Long, “but don’t try to hide what you’re doing.”
The Professor saw the sense of this advice and he followed it, lifting his feet so high that the action was plainly seen, but doing so with a certain dignity that was not lacking in impressiveness. His aim was to give the act the appearance of a strategic movement, as it may be called. It was not that he was afraid of the natives, but he was seeking a better place from which to open hostilities against them.
This was the impression which he sought to give the fierce savages, and whether he succeeded, or not was certain to become apparent within the following five minutes. He himself believed, the chances were against the success of his plan.
Now took place an unprecedented incident.
The air of comity, or at least neutrality, which brooded over the two parties had given way to that of silent but intense hostility. The prowling movement of the native with the spear as he slipped into the wood, the sudden advance of Jared Long, whose face became like a thunder-cloud, when every hope of a friendly termination vanished, and the abrupt halt of the bowman, showed that all parties had thrown off the cloak of good will and become deadly enemies.