The Spider (Friel)
I WOULD not attack that spider again, senhor, if I were you. You have seen for yourself that you can not hit him. No matter how quickly you strike, he is inches away when the blow falls.
Those huge, bird-killing spiders all are incredibly swift. I have heard that not even a bullet is fast enough to kill one—that at the flash of the gun he jumps so quickly that the whole seven inches of him is out of danger when the shot strikes. Whether that be true or not, I know you will never hit him with your fist; you will only tire yourself out. Besides, he may grow angry and attack you in return. His fangs are half an inch long, senhor, and he is full of poison. It is not wise to risk his springing at you.
This is an odd place to find such a monster—here in the middle of the broad Amazon, on a steamer outward bound toward the Atlantic. Yet strange creatures sometimes come aboard these river-boats while they are tied up at the bank. Some of them are harmless, and some are deadly. And not all of the deadly things are found on the outgoing steamers, nor are they all bred here in the jungle.
Sometimes they come up the river from the outside and are the more deadly because they are human. The memory of one of them came into my mind just now while I watched that great spider leaping aside from your blows. He, too, was called the "Spider," that man, though his name was Schwartz.
What is that? You say that schwarz means "black"? That is very droll, senhor, for the Spider was black. Black of hair, black of beard, black of eye he was—yes, and black of heart, too, though at first we did not know that. We called him Spider because he looked like one. His little eyes were set close together with a sort of spidery look in them. His body was small and bunchy, while his arms were long and thin and covered with black hair. His legs were short and crooked. Yet he could run amazingly fast on those little legs; that made him seen all the more like a spider. And later he made himself a spider's lair—and came to a spider's end.
An up-river boat brought him to us one day, and with him a small brown bag and a rifle. He had no letters to Coronel Nunes, owner of the great rubber estate where I worked, nor anything else to show who he was or whence he had come. The coronel, however, received him with the courtesy he shows to all who come to him; and when this man told him he had had another bag, containing letters of introduction and other things of value, but that it had been stolen from him on the boat, the coronel believed him—or at any rate seemed to, for theft is a thing that may happen to any man in almost any place.
Schwartz boldly made himself at home there at the headquarters and talked vaguely about looking over the country for the people he said he represented. He went out in the jungle with us men and saw all he could see. Always he carried two weapons—the rifle, and a pistol.
It may be a foolish fancy, senhores, but I have sometimes thought that a man may be judged by his weapons, and not only the man himself, but the country whence he comes—for a man usually carries the weapons made in his own land. Now you two Americans, I have noticed, carry with you that flat pistol made by the Senhor Colt, which you say was used by your army in the war in Europe. There is about it a square, solid look which fits well with the things I have observed about you and with what I have heard about your great country. Also, the shape of that pistol is such that it seems to say—
"I do not seek trouble with any man, but if any man wants it—I am ready."
Your Winchesters, too, have something of that same air of solid readiness. The guns of the Spider had a much different appearance. The pistol looked venomous; it leaned forward from the ugly butt to the thin muzzle, as if always eager to kill. It reminded me of a striking snake. The name of it, he once told me, was a Loo—let me see—ah yes, that is it, senhor—a Luger. The rifle, too, looked wicked, but I can not remember its name; it does not matter. But that pistol and the look of the spidery man who carried it were such that, when he was following behind me in the bush, I got a cold feeling between my shoulder-blades, as if death were about to strike me in the back.
My mates, too, said that they had the same feeling when he was behind them; yet he gave us no real cause for it. He did not bluster nor threaten us by word or act. Indeed, he was very quiet. He had the spider's way of remaining still in one place for a long time, watching everything and making no move. It might be our work that he watched, or it might be something in the jungle that aroused his interest; but whatever it was, you felt that when he stopped looking at it he had seen everything about it and remembered it all.
One thing that amused us was his habit of watching other spiders—real spiders of the bush, which we often met. No matter what sort of spider it might be he would study it and learn its ways and how it lived and got its prey. When he did this we would wink at one another and laugh behind our hands, and one of my mates named Pedro—a tall, handsome young fellow who was very droll—would pretend to pounce on something, and then say under his breath:
"Take care, little spider, the big Spider will eat you!"
It seemed very funny to us at the time. But later on things came about which made it not funny at all.
After he had been among us for some time, another boat came. It brought us welcome guests: the coronel's daughter, who had journeyed all the way from Rio to visit him, and her cousin, a gentleman of Rio, Senhor Affonso da Fonseca. Every year the Senhorita Flora made this long trip from the great city where she was receiving the finest education the coronel's wealth could give her, to see her lonely old father. And though he would never allow her to remain very long, lest she become ill from the climate or meet some mischance from snakes or other things, we all knew that he looked forward to these short visits of hers as the brightest days of all the year.
We knew, too, that he planned eventually to make his own home again in Rio, where he had lived until his wife died. And we knew also that Senhor Affonso, who was somewhat older than the senhorita, had a deeper feeling for her than that of a cousin, and that, though he accompanied her partly because he was interested in our rubber country and partly because he felt it his duty to protect her on the long journey, he came more for the pleasure of being with her. We were glad of this, for she was a handsome, gracious girl—the true daughter of her father—while the senhor was every inch a man and would make her a fine husband. The coronel himself approved the match.
NOW it happened just at this time that I met with a rather bad accident in the bush—my right leg was cut by a machete—and so I had to go back to headquarters to let the injury heal. My old coronel had a very friendly feeling for me because in past days I had done some dangerous things for him which many men would not have done. So, while I was recovering from my hurt, he often had me come to the house and sit and talk to him, and, being there, I saw a number of things.
For one thing, I noticed that the Spider stopped going into the jungle so much. He stayed around the headquarters, sitting quiet for hours in that spidery way of his and watching the senhorita or Senhor Affonso. Sometimes he talked, in his throaty foreign way, and the others answered him with all politeness, but I could see that none of them liked him.
The coronel was displeased at the way the Spider's eyes followed his daughter, and the girl herself avoided him. Senhor Affonso, though, was much interested sometimes by the black-bearded man's talk of things he had studied in the jungle, and now and then he went out with him to see those things for himself. At such times I always felt uneasy, and Senhorita Flora, too, kept watching anxiously until they returned.
Mind you, senhores, the Spider never had done anything to make us distrust him. But dark crimes can easily be committed when two men are alone in the bush, and we knew that Senhor Affonso was wealthy and that, no doubt, he had a tempting sum of milreis with him; and, as I have said, there was that about the Spider which made one feel that it would not be well to trust him too far. So I always felt relieved when the Rio gentleman came back unharmed, and I knew the senhorita did also, though she never spoke of what was in her mind.
Then one day a man of ours reported seeing a splendid black jaguar in the forest, and Senhor Affonso and the Spider went to hunt it. They made the longest trip they had yet taken, for they were gone two days. This time we were more at ease about them, however, for by the coronel's order two of our men went with them—the man who had seen the jaguar and another who was a good hunter.
Not long after they departed, another boat came. It was the one which had brought the Spider to us. My leg was better now, though still stiff, and I limped down to watch the unloading of the supplies. As I started, the coronel asked me to request the captain to come up for a moment. I did so and thought no more of it. After the boat went, though, I noticed that the coronel seem disturbed. At times his eyes would snap angrily and then he would walk up and down, his face wrinkled in thought. I asked no questions, of course, but after the Spider and Senhor Affonso returned I soon learned what was the matter.
They had found the jaguar, and brought with them his great, glossy hide, which Senhor Affonso proudly showed to the girl and her father.
"It shall go back to Rio with us," he said, looking at Flora, and there was that in his face which added: "And some day, beloved, it shall be in our home."
She smiled and blushed a little, dropping her eyes.
I do not know why I did it, but I glanced at the Spider to see if he watched this. I saw he did and that a nasty expression crossed his face. The coronel saw this too, and his mouth tightened. When the others started into the house he said—
"Senhor Schwartz, I would speak with you."
I turned to go away. But, as I have said, my leg was stiff, and I had to walk slowly—and I will admit that I did not try very hard to hasten, for I knew the coronel was about to say something worth hearing. Before I had gone far the old gentleman spoke:
"Senhor, you have now made me quite a long visit. I have greatly enjoyed your companionship and I am grieved that in this poor home of mine I have been unable to offer you better entertainment. I trust, however, that the little I could do to show you the workings of the estate has been of some assistance to you, and that on your departure you will carry with you many pleasant memories."
The Spider said nothing. So the coronel added—
"It is with sorrow that I learn that you are to leave us on the next boat."
After a pause the Spider said:
"Ya, I see. It is because I lost that bag mit my papers."
"Pardon, senhor,'" said the coronel, "but the Aurora was here yesterday, and as you are my guest I asked the captain if any trace of your black bag, of which you told me, had been found. He told me, senhor, that you had no black bag whatever—only the brown one which you brought here, and that nothing had been taken from you. No doubt there is some mistake. Yet I have known this captain for years, and I know him to be honest and truthful."
There was another pause. Just as I passed out of hearing the Spider said—
"He is a —— liar, but I will go."
I heard him walk into the house.
As no boat was expected for a time, things went on as before. I said nothing of what I had overheard and I know the coronel did not tell the others, for he is the very soul of hospitality and it had cost him an unpleasant struggle to do what he had to do. The Spider went out into the bush a few times alone and returned and talked of various things he had seen. Then one morning he and Senhor Affonso went out together, to look at something or other this black-hearted man said he had found.
I watched them go and I became more uneasy than ever before. I wanted to follow, but my leg was not yet good enough to let me travel easily and noiselessly; so I looked about, and my eye fell on young Pedro, the droll fellow who used to pretend to devour spiders. I beckoned to him and whispered to him to follow the pair and keep out of sight. He did so at once.
TIME passed, and a sort of drowsiness had crept upon me, when there came a sound—a sound like a shot, some distance away and muffled by the bush. I sprang awake and listened. Suddenly I remembered that Pedro had not taken his rifle—only the machete he always carried at his belt. Senhor Affonso, though, had a gun with him and he might be shooting at some animal.
Before long there came two other shots. These were nearer than the first and sounded like the spiteful crack of the Luger. I got up and went to my quarters to get my rifle. Senhorita Flora who had heard the shots too, come out and called to me—
"Lourenço, what is it?"
But I made no answer and went on as fast as a lame man could.
I was just coming out with the gun when Flora's name was called from the edge of the forest. There stood the Spider.
"Come quickly, senhorita," he said. "Affonso has met with an accident."
She started running toward him. I called—
"Do not go, senhorita! Wait!"
But she kept on, and I began to run too. Then the Spider stopped us both. He fired at me.
The bullet missed me so narrowly that I felt it pass my face. I dodged, my clumsy stiff leg twisted, and I fell sprawling. When I looked up the girl had whirled and was running back to the house.
The Spider, who thought he had killed me, was running after her with all his spidery speed. My rifle had fallen from my hand, and while I was getting it he caught her. He dragged her back toward the jungle. She struggled to escape, and he struck her so hard that he dazed her. Then he picked her up and ran, but I had my rifle now.
I fired from where I lay, aiming low, trying to hit his crooked legs and so avoid injuring Flora. But I shot hurriedly and missed him. Still, my shooting stopped him, for when he saw I was alive he swung the girl toward me and, using her as a shield, fired at me again.
As you perhaps know, a man lying down is hard to hit, but his bullet ripped across my shoulders and tore the shirt from my back and burned my skin. I could not shoot again without striking the senhorita, so I did not try.
Then came a burst of fire from the house, where the coronel had seized weapons. Now he came bounding out like a jaguar, with a pistol in each hand spitting flame and lead, as he ran. Somewhere behind me, too, a rifle barked, fired by some man about the place.
Of course, both the coronel and the workman shot high, lest they kill Flora. But the Spider, thinking only of himself, had no time to realize this. Finding himself under fire from two directions and hearing yells of rage as other men ran for their guns, he suddenly dropped the girl and ran, diving into the bush.
I shot at him again as he fled, but again I missed. Then we all hastened to Flora, whom the coronel had caught up in his arms. For the moment we forgot everything but her. Then, still stunned by the blow of the Spider, she moaned—
We all started and looked at one another, and I said—
"Yes, Senhor Affonso must have been shot—and Pedro, too."
I explained how I had sent Pedro to follow. The coronel snapped:
"Go, men, and find them! And find that—that Schwartz, too!"
We growled. The Spider would not come back alive if we found him. But we did not find him, for he had vanished. We pressed on to find our own people. I could not keep up with the others, but I was not far behind when they met Pedro. He came staggering down an old estrada, his face twisted with pain, and he bore the body of Senhor Affonso.
At first we believed that body to be dead, for it hung limp and there were two bullet-holes in it, but while we were cutting down branches to make a litter Senhor Affonso stirred and moaned. Pedro cried out joyously:
"He lives! The senhor lives!"
Then he dropped, did Pedro, fainting from loss of blood, for he, too, had been shot by the Spider, and his wound was bad, near the shoulder. So now we had two men to carry home.
As I learned later, this was what had happened:
The Spider had told Senhor Affonso he had found a trap-door spider's nest which was quite the most wonderful thing he had ever seen, and the senhor, greatly interested, went with him into a place where no men were working. There the Spider pointed to a hole at the base of a large tree, with thick spider-webbing across it, and said that was it.
If the city gentleman had been better acquainted with spiders he would have known that no trap-door spider would ever make such a nest, but that it would be concealed so that it could not be seen at all. But he went up to it, and then the man Schwartz said—
"Look closely, Affonso, and see how a spider acts when he is cornered!"
Then he shot him in the back.
The only thing that saved the senhor was that, even as he bent to look, he sensed something treacherous in the Spider's words and turned to see his face. The bullet struck him before he had turned half-way, but he had twisted so far that, instead of going into his heart, it went through him sidewise and came out under his right arm. The shock threw him forward and his head struck hard against the tree, knocking him senseless.
The Spider, thinking him dead, swiftly robbed him of everything valuable—though he did not get so much as he probably expected, for the senhor had put most of his money in the coronel's safe soon after his arrival. Then he dashed back to carry off the handsome Senhorita Flora, but on the way he met Pedro.
Pedro, not wishing the pair to know he was there, had followed at some distance and, though he heard the shot, he did not see the shooting and could not be sure of what it meant. So, with his machete ready, he sought to stop the Spider and question him. Without a word the Spider shot him, too, firing twice. The first bullet knocked him down in the thick bush and the second missed. When he struggled up again the Spider was gone. Since the first thing to do was to find Senhor Affonso, he went and found him.
FOR some time it seemed that both Pedro and the senhor would die. But both were strong, and at last they recovered. While they lay there we hunted the Spider, but found nothing at all; he had disappeared as if he never had been there. It was during this time, too, that we learned what he meant by his double-tongued advice to Senhor Affonso to see what a cornered spider would do, for there came a boat, and with it two quiet, common-looking men who talked with the coronel and went out into the bush with our men. They finally left without telling their business to any one except the coronel. When they had gone we learned with surprize that they were police. We also found that they sought the Spider, and that he was wanted in Para for murder, and at Manaos for—worse than murder.
So you see that though he could not know the law was so close behind him, he did know he could not go back down the river on the next boat. He had reached the last place where he could live among men, and now there was no place left for him but the jungle.
My leg was well long before the senhor and Pedro were, and I went back to work. I heard, though, that Senhor Affonso vowed he would stay there until he had hunted down the man who had shot him and assailed the lady Flora, if it took the rest of his life.
The senhorita was even more bitter against that man than Affonso himself—not so much because he had attacked her as because he had nearly killed her sweetheart. That is the way of women. Yet she pleaded with him not to seek the Spider, as he might be killed in doing so. The coronel, too, pointed out that he was city-bred and not fitted for man-hunting in such terrible country as ours, that the Spider must have perished in the jungle, and that even the police had abandoned the idea of looking for him. Pedro, for whom the senhor now had much affection, also urged him to change his mind, and said:
"Leave him to me, senhor. He is mine as well as yours, and I know the forest far better than you. If ever I find him, he dies."
And so he was dissuaded, and finally he and Flora went back to Rio.
WE HAD long given up the Spider as dead, for he had not much ammunition and no way of getting more. Thus his weapons would soon become useless, and then he could kill no game to eat. We had decided he was dead, I say, when strange things began to occur. The first of these was the disappearance of Custodio Barros.
We were working far out from headquarters at the time, in new rubber land, and we needed more supplies. Custodio was sent down the river in his canoe to get them. A long time went by, and he did not return.
Then we sent another man. Before he had gone far he met two boats coming up from headquarters, and when he asked what ailed Custodio, the men in the boats were astonished, for they thought he had returned to us. They said he had come, got his supplies and started back; since then nothing had been seen or heard of him. Their own action in bringing more supplies had nothing to do with him, but was the usual arrangement. They said they would keep a sharp lookout on the way back to see if any trace of him could be found, but they discovered no trace at all.
This, of course, caused much talk and argument among us. Custodio was an honest fellow and even if he had not been he would hardly have run away with a few supplies. He might have gone ashore and been killed by a snake or a jaguar, or he might have been drowned, or devoured by alligators or piranhas. None of those things, however, would have destroyed his canoe, and the empty canoe would have been seen by some one. It might be that Indians had killed him and taken all he had, but this did not seem likely. Each of us had his own idea of what might have happened, but none of us knew anything more than the fact that he was lost.
Gumercindo Penria was the next. He was a steady, thrifty man who had worked among us for a long time and had never gambled. He had accumulated a large account with the coronel. He had a little family at a place well down the river, and now the longing for home had grown too strong in him, and he was going out.
The coronel, who is always very kind to those who serve him well, not only paid him his due but gave him a handsome present besides, so that he was quite rich for a man of this region. Yet, partly because he was so thrifty and partly because the home fever was burning strong in him, he would not wait for a regular boat and go home as a paying passenger, but started at once in his own canoe.
Since he was going down-river, the coronel asked him to bear a message to some of our men working some distance below headquarters, telling them to come in, as he had decided to send them into another place. Gumercindo gladly promised to do so.
The men did not come in, and, after waiting awhile, the coronel sent another man with the same message. This time the men came promptly. They said, senhores, that Gumercindo not only had given them no message, but he had never passed their camp!
At this the coronel was much perplexed, and after turning things over in his mind he sent two men all the way to Gumercindo's home to see if he had arrived there. He had not. Nobody knew anything at all about him. Nowhere between the headquarters and his home was there any sign of him. He, too, had disappeared.
This alarmed and angered all of us. Searching parties went out with orders to find the lost man or some trace of him, and they hunted all along both banks and sent word far down the river to seek him. But nothing was found; neither Gumercindo himself, nor his canoe, nor even his hat.
After that no man traveled alone. We felt that some terrible thing was on the river, though what it might be we could not guess. We made note of one thing, though—that both of these men had disappeared with something of value. Custodio had vanished with some supplies; Gumercindo with money. Men who had nothing were not molested. Still, the fact that both of those lost men had been alone when they were destroyed made us want to travel in pairs, whether we had anything or not. For a time this worked well. Nothing happened to any of us, except the usual accidents and hazards of our work.
Then came something that struck dread deeper into our hearts. Two men disappeared together, and with them a whole boat-load of valuable supplies. One of them, Lucas Maciel, was a rather simple fellow and slow of thought, but the other, Saldanha Saraiva, was a man of quick wit and much experience on the river, whose only weakness was a fondness for women. They were bound up-stream when they were last seen, and somewhere between that point and our workings the mysterious Death which haunted the river reached out and seized them, their boat and all they had. As before, no trace was left behind.
While we were searching along the banks and back in the jungle for any sign of what had happened to these mates of ours, a fifth man was swallowed up. Antonio Maciel, he was—a brother of Lucas. This time the Death struck not on the water, but in the jungle.
Antonio was one of several men who were beating through the bush, strung out in a long fine with wide spaces between them, and he was at the end of the line nearest the stream. After a time the man next to him found that Antonio was not answering his calls. He cut his way toward where Antonio should have been. He was not there, nor had he reached that place. There was no trace of him. He was gone, as if the ground had opened under him and closed again. The last sign of him was a place where he had slashed some vines with his machete.
This was too much. Men now feared to work—to go in canoes—to do anything. They were not cowards, these comrades of mine, but the mystery and silence of this awful Death that left no trace was more than they could stand. Some crossed themselves and said it was no mortal thing, but a demon. No man knew when or where it would strike him down, for it had seized Antonio, who was on land and had nothing but his weapons, just as it had devoured the men on the water who had money or supplies. Though our work went on, we toiled always with a cold feeling on our backs, and went always by twos or threes. There was not one of us who did not shudder at the mention of this mysterious Death.
NOW Pedro had recovered from his bullet-wound and was back at work with me, we had many talks about this thing which we called the Death, but none of them got us anywhere. Yet, through these talks, we got into the habit of being together, and where one of us went the other went too. So when I was told to go to headquarters and fetch back some things that were needed in our work, Pedro came with me. At the headquarters I got what we had been sent for and, as the things were few, I gave them over to Pedro to put into the canoe while I told the coronel how all was going at our lamo up the river. When I came out and saw our canoe I was astonished. It seemed to be full of supplies.
"What is this, Pedro?" I asked.
He smiled his odd smile, and answered:
"It is bait. The boxes and bags are filled with trash." And as I stared at him he added: "The Death strikes at men with full canoes, Lourenço. I would see what this Death looks like."
"Are you mad?" I cried angrily. "Is there not danger enough without inviting more?"
"Perhaps so," he said, his brown eyes dancing. "If you are afraid, we will leave this bait behind."
Of course that silenced me, as he knew it would. We pushed off and paddled away with our worthless cargo. After we swung into our long-distance stroke some of his recklessness crept into me too, and I began to look forward to meeting the Death and fighting it.
The only thing we did meet, however, was far from what we half expected. At a place where a slow, quiet creek flowed into the river, a soft call came to us, and as we looked we saw standing there an Indian woman. We held the canoe steady and stared at her.
She was a magnificent woman, for she was tall and shapely, deep-bosomed and full-hipped, and she looked as strong as a man; her face, too, was really handsome. She laughed and beckoned to us. Pedro laughed back, waved his hand and asked her what she would have of us; she made some answer, but we could not understand it, for we did not know her tongue. Then she waved to us again to come ashore.
Pedro, who was in the bow, drove his paddle into the river to do so, but I backed water and held the canoe where it was, for, though the things we had been sent for were few, they were badly needed at our tambo and we were under orders to waste no time. When Pedro scowled at me I reminded him of this and told him I had had enough of his foolishness and that we would go on at once. Still, we stayed there a few minutes, out on the water, while he and the woman talked back and forth without understanding each other at all. Then we went on, paddling fast to make up for lost time.
The sight of this woman had surprized us much, for we knew of no Indians along that stream—their country was farther west and south. Had she been a man it would not have seemed so strange, for the savages are rovers and hunt for long distances away from their homes; but a woman, all alone on the bank, was something to be wondered at. We puzzled about her as we went on and concluded that a band of the Indians must be living near the stream for a time, as she certainly would never be there unless some men were about. As I have said, she was the only person we saw on all our trip. The mysterious Death never molested us. So, when we neared our journey's end, I said:
"Let us now throw this bait overboard. It has caught no fish."
"Very well," said Pedro, and we drew up to the bank to do so.
But suddenly, as he reached for the first bag, a strange look dawned in his face, as if a great thought had struck him.
"Lourenço!" he said hoarsely. "That woman—I wonder if she too was bait!"
I frowned at him, wondering what he meant, but he did not explain. Instead, he said:
"We will not throw away our bait. We will hide it and use it again. Say nothing of the woman, Lourenço. I have an idea, and later you shall know what it is."
So we hid all the trash beside the water, and marked a tree so that we could find it again, and went on to the tambo.
Now in this gang of ours there was a silent, surly man who had been a lone rubber-picker in very wild parts of Peru and Bolivia, and who knew Indian tongues. He was said to be a refugee from both countries because he had killed men there, and most of us left him alone as much as possible.
Now I observed, however, that Pedro was with him a good deal. Pedro was the sort of man who can make friends with any one, and even this sour, suspicious killer liked him. What they talked about Pedro did not tell me, and I asked no questions. This went on for a time, and then one night Pedro took the gang-boss aside and talked with him. After that he came and told me to clean my rifle and prepare to go down-river, and in the morning we went.
At the place where the marked tree stood we got our bait again, and arranged it so that it looked much different than before. Then we went on down-stream, ready for anything that might come, but nothing came.
When we reached the place where we had seen the woman, we held the canoe, and Pedro gave an odd cry like a bird. I recognized the call as one he had been practising since he began talking with the Peruvian outlaw. We listened, but neither heard nor saw anything, so we went on. At intervals he called again, and at last there floated back the same call from the jungle. We stopped the canoe where it it was. Pedro called again, and again came the reply. Soon a figure appeared among the trees, and we saw the savage woman.
"Hold your rifle ready, Lourenço," he whispered.
I seized the gun and cocked it, watching the shore. He began to talk to the woman, using strange words which meant nothing to me, but which she evidently understood, for she responded at once. Now I saw why he had spent so much time with the man from the west who knew Indian languages. He had been learning how to speak the savage dialect himself.
She laughed, that woman, and chattered eagerly to Pedro and waved to us to come to her. But that we did not do. Pedro shook his head, and once he pointed upstream and said more things.
After a time he began to paddle again and went on down the river and left her behind. We passed around a bend and then another, and when we were well out of sight, he turned the canoe toward the shore—across the river from the bank where the woman had stood. At a good place we landed, and there he arranged our cargo again to suit himself. He laughed at all my questions and made no answer, but his eyes sparkled, and his face was alive with his thoughts, though at times he looked a little puzzled and doubtful, too.
When he was ready we went back upstream. This time he gave no call, and we paddled steadily until we reached that place where first we had seen the woman. There he turned toward the little creek, and as we neared it I saw her again. Pedro had made tryst with her and now he stepped out on land and went boldly to her. I stayed in the canoe.
"I think there is no danger here, Lourenço," he said, "but be alert."
He talked more with her while I watched them and everything around them. As before, she chattered and laughed with him, and I could see that she admired him much, which was not strange, for men admired him too—he was so tall and straight and strong.
I saw also that he was questioning her, and that she was not answering all his questions. Once she wanted to look at the stuff in our boat, but I warned her off, and Pedro himself held her arm and stopped her.
Finally he stepped back into the canoe, and we went on up-river until we were out of sight. There we picked a place to camp and stayed there that night, lighting no fire.
Before we slept, he told me that the woman was living in the jungle with a man, but what sort of a man he was or where he lived she would not tell him. This man, she said, was away somewhere that day, and what he was doing she did not know. When Pedro asked her if she would lead us to the man's camp she refused. Then she asked what we had in our boat, and he told her they were supplies for a new camp. It was then that she tried to look at them and we prevented her. After that she asked where this new camp was, and he told her at a certain place well up the river, where there really was no camp and where none was intended. In leaving her, he told her he would not work the next day because it was his birthday, and he would come to meet her again at the same place.
"I ask you again, Pedro," I said, "what is the meaning of all this? And why are you so interested in this savage woman?"
"Lourenço," he answered, "we are now not very far from headquarters. All of our five friends whom the Death has struck have disappeared not far from headquarters—or so I believe. The place where we first saw that woman is not far from headquarters. The place where she answered my call today is still nearer to headquarters. More than that, she answered from a spot very near where Antonio Maciel vanished. Now there is a riddle for you to puzzle over. I am going to sleep."
IN THE morning we took out all our bait and put it into the bush. Pedro sat a while and watched the creeping shadows, and, when it was time, we went down the river again. As we paddled along I said:
"Pedro, if this woman has anything to do with the Death, as you believe, then we are fools to meet her again where you agreed, for we are likely to go into a trap and never come out."
He laughed and replied—
"If the Death is what I think it is, it is now up the river seeking that new camp of which I told her, and so it can do us no harm."
He seemed to be right, for the woman awaited us, and they talked again for some time, and nothing at all happened. I could see that she was very much taken with my handsome companion, but, as before, he could not make her answer all his questions. After we left her he said:
"She is no fool, Lourenço, for all that she seems so simple. Still, I think that in the end we shall learn what we want to know."
When I suggested that we hasten matters by going straight to the place where she had answered his bird-cry and searching the jungle there, he snorted and replied:
"Oh, yes, surely. That was just what Antonio was doing—searching the bush at that place. And there were more men in his party than in ours. Have patience, comrade, and do not jump in the dark."
This silenced me.
We hid for the rest of that day and that night, and then we went to meet her again—for the last time, as it turned out. She seemed sulky, and when he tried to put her in better humor she answered crossly, and we saw that something had happened since we left her. Yet Pedro finally coaxed her into a cheery mood and she began to smile and give him soft looks.
Later I learned that she had blurted out that he was lying to her because there was no camp where he had said. Of course, that instantly showed him that his shrewd guess had been right, and that she or her man had sought that camp. He was not foolish enough to let her see his thought, however, and he told her that the plans had been changed and the new camp was being made at another place. After that they talked on for some time, and he told her how handsome she was and so on.
I was crouched in the canoe, as usual, watching everything like a cat, and listening. All at once my ear caught a tiny sound in the bush—a soft rustle as if something had brushed stealthily against some leaves. Pedro and the woman were talking low, and I put all my attention on that little sound. It might be only a wandering breeze, a crawling snake or some other natural thing, but I had to be sure. Soon I heard it again, very soft, and I knew something was creeping nearer to us. Then, at a place where the tangle was very thick, I saw a slight movement caused by something about the height of a man.
"Take care, Pedro!" I shouted.
Like a flash he dodged and leaped forward, landing several feet away. Like a flash an arrow sped through the place where he had been. I threw up my rifle and fired straight at the spot where I had seen the movement; but even as my finger pressed the trigger I knew the bullet had missed, for a violent shaking of leaves showed that the man there had thrown himself sidewise. Then, while I was throwing another cartridge into the barrel, the killing of that man was taken out of my hands.
The woman sprang at the bush. In one hand she held Pedro's machete, which she had snatched from his belt. With that weapon she hacked and stabbed in a fury that was terrible to see. I caught glimpses of a body writhing under her and heard a snarl, a broken scream and a groan. Then the body lay still and we heard no sound but the slash of the long knife through the leaves as the woman struck and struck and struck.
For a moment Pedro and I were paralyzed. Then Pedro seized her and twisted the dripping machete from her hand. I jumped ashore, and while she stood shaking and sobbing with rage we dragged the body out and looked at it.
"Por Deus!" muttered Pedro. "The Spider!"
YES, senhores, it was the Spider. He was a frightful thing to look at, but he was the Spider—the man whom we had thought dead and who now truly was so. Even in death he looked the Spider, for his arms and legs were crumpled up as if something had smashed him. From his belt hung a narrow bag made from a skin, and in it were several arrows. Stepping into the place where his woman had killed him, we found his bow—a short, clumsy but powerful weapon that could drive an arrow clear through a man at close range.
While we were looking at this we heard a dragging sound and stepped out in time to see the last of the Spider. With one hand the woman was hauling him to the river. There she picked him up as if he were only a monkey, swung him and threw him out into the water.
He struck and sank with a soggy splash. A moment later the water began to seethe and boil. We knew the piranhas, those ravenous cannibal fish, were swarming upon him and chopping him into fragments. So thick were they that some of them were crowded up into the air, snapping their jaws like traps. A red stain grew on the surface and slowly drifted down the current with that hellish boiling going on under it. Before long, though, the water grew quiet again, and the red stain floated out of sight.
Then the woman looked at Pedro. The hatred faded out of her face, her fierce eyes softened and she took his hand and led us away into the jungle. We traveled for some distance and stopped at length in a place where Pedro looked about and said—
"This is where Antonio disappeared."
We could not see anything strange, though at one spot the tangle of vines and bush was very thick and matted together, as it may be anywhere in those forests. The woman saw we were puzzled and she walked up to that tangle—and suddenly she was gone. But she called, and we followed her. And as we reached the matted vines a part of them moved outward like a door, and there she was, laughing like a little girl playing a game.
Senhores, that was the Spider's nest—a lair made from the growing bushes and vines so cunningly twisted and woven among themselves that a man could stand within ten feet of it and never suspect that it was a shelter and hiding-place. If ever there was a great trap-door spider's nest, that was it.
The man Schwartz had followed the trap-door spider's example inside his den, as well as outside. That spider, as you probably know, not only makes a door which swings shut behind him, and covers that door with things that grow around it, but he also makes a secret pocket at the side of his nest, where he can hide if any enemy discovers his lair. And the Spider had done this also.
At one side of his den the ground rose, and there he had dug a hole and covered it over with the growing things so that nobody would ever know it was there. It was not meant to hide in, though, but to conceal the things he took from murdered men. In that hole, when the woman showed it to us, we found all the property of Custodio, Gumercindo, Saldanha and the brothers Maciel. There was Gumercindo's money, the supplies taken from the others and their weapons and even their clothes. But of the men themselves there was no sign anywhere.
When Pedro asked the woman what had become of the men, she said that after the Spider killed them and stripped them of all they had, he did with them just what she had finally done to him—threw them to the piranhas, which quickly destroyed them.
Their canoes, she said, he hid until night, when he took them far up the quiet little creek where we had first seen her, and there, where neither flame nor smoke would be seen by any one, he burned them—all except the light, fast canoe of Custodio, which he concealed very cunningly and used himself. In this he made his spying trips, going at night and staying away for a day or two. No doubt he had been almost beside us more than once, lying low, watching and listening with that spidery patience of his and learning whom he might kill with profit.
In all these murders, the woman said, he used the bow and arrow which was silent and easy enough to handle at close range. In all the killings except that of Antonio Maciel he made her lure the men ashore at some place where he lurked, ready to strike them down. To Custodio, Lucas and Saldanha she had called and showed herself, just as she did to us, and they came to her and so to their death. Gumercindo was caught in another way, for he was a shrewd man and was hastening home and thus was not so likely to tarry for any savage woman. The Spider had had her stay out of sight, though near the water, and scream as if in great danger. Gumercindo, like a brave fellow he was, sped to shore and dashed into the bush to save the one who was in such distress. He was shot in the back for his pains.
Antonio Maciel was killed because he was coming straight at the Spider's nest with his machete ready to cut through what he took for a natural tangle. Through a small opening in the side of his den the Spider shot him and dragged him swiftly inside, so that when the other men arrived they found nothing but the last place where he had cut his way. That was some distance back from where he died.
We learned, too, that Pedro and I were to have been the next victims, if we had come near enough. The Spider had a place down-stream where he could watch what went on at headquarters across the river, and he saw Pedro load up the canoe with what looked like many supplies, and so hastened back and made the woman run to that place at the creek and play her part when we passed on our return. While she tried to bring us ashore he lurked ready to kill us, but when we refused to come he was too wise to attack us at a distance, so he let us go.
So Pedro's foolish bait caught something after all, though even he did not suspect that the Spider still lived. He carried that bait to see what might come of it and later he believed that the Death was some Indian.
When we came back and Pedro had given the bird-call of her people, she was alone, for the Spider was away somewhere spying, and she wanted us to come ashore only because she was hungry to talk with the man who could speak her own tongue.
After she left us at the creek she told the Spider, on his return, of our new camp and all our new supplies. He went seeking it, came back angry and beat her. From that time on she told him nothing more of us but met Pedro secretly. She did not know that the Spider had followed her on that last day until Pedro jumped, and the arrow flashed by him. Then her hatred of the Spider, which had long been growing in her, flamed out in the fury that destroyed him.
She had no love for him, but had been sold to him by her people, whom he had met by chance in the jungle before he came back to the river and made his lair. He gave the headman his rifle for her, she said, and, though he had used up all his cartridges so that the gun was useless, the headman made the trade because women were plentiful in his tribe but guns were very scarce, and he might be able to get cartridge.
She told us also that her people knew where there was gold, and that the Spider had planned to get much of this gold in trade for the supplies he took from our men. Thus, in time, he hoped to become very rich, and then, perhaps, would make his way into Peru, where he was not known, and where he could enjoy the wealth gained through the deaths of honest men.
So you see, senhores, it was as I told you at the beginning—this man lived like a spider and he died like one. If you know spiders, you know that the female is larger and stronger than the male, and that often she turns on him and destroys him. The thing that destroyed this Spider was the fact that he did not know this big, handsome woman's heart.
Though I do not claim to know much of women, yet I have observed a few and I have noticed that when a man treats a woman as something bought and paid for, the time may come when he had best beware of her. I have noticed, too, that when women meet men for whom they care, it makes little difference whether they are fine ladies from Rio, or humble maidens of the village, or savage women of the jungle—at heart they are all the same.