Author of “Wild, Women,” .“The Vulture,” etc.
DEOS Padre! Hear that war-horn! Hand me your field-glasses quickly, senhor! Something is happening over there on the southern bank of the river, and I can not see it plainly. If it is an attack there will be rifle-shots, unless the settlers are overpowered at once. Listen!
Ah, it is nothing. Only a celebration. I can see Indians with great false heads doing a devil-dance before the house of some planter, who stands there with his woman and laughs. Probably he is their patrao, and has given them a holiday to keep them in good humor.
If the harsh blast of that turé had not struck my ear so suddenly I might have realized that it was blown only in merry-making, for the days when hordes of bloody barbaros attacked settlers here on the Amazon are long past. Past, I mean, on the Amazon itself. Up the great wild rivers which flow in from the south there are still plenty of savage killers, and we Brazilians who rove the unknown jungle know well what the turé means. It is the voice of death.
You can not blame me, then, for leaping up so suddenly just now. That jarring note made me forget for an instant that I was safe on the deck of a steamer instead of back in the wilderness of the Javary. More over, it is not many months since I heard the turé blown in deadly earnest, and I have not forgotten what followed.
Certainly, senhor, I will tell you the story if you care to hear it. Wait a moment until I make another cigaret. The one which I was smoking must have dropped overboard when I sprang up.
NOW this thing of which I speak came about while the waters of the great yearly flood were sweeping over the lowlands of the Javary region, where I was a rubber-worker for Nunes. As you know, there are really two floods each year here on the upper Amazon, but only one of these is the great rise. Then the water overwhelms all except the highest places, and our work in the swampy forests must stop until it drains away to the far-off ocean. And it was at this time that I met the Trumpeter.
With my comrade, Pedro Andrada, I had paddled southward through flooded channels to the upper reaches of the river Jurua. There, after escaping from a band of fighting women who had no men and were determined to make us husbands to all their tribe, we found a furo, or natural canal, opening out of the river toward the north. On this we started back to our own section, moving at our usual cruising speed. We were in no hurry, for we thought there would be nothing to do when we should reach our journey’s end. But two days after leaving the river, as we were looking about among the half-drowned trees for a solid spot fit to sleep on that night, Pedro spoke in a tone of concern.
“Lourenço, we had best paddle a little harder tomorrow. The enchente has ended and the vasante has set in.”
As he said, the great rise had reached its height. On the trees around us were wet stains showing that it was beginning to ebb. From now on the waters would drop steadily until they were fifty feet or more below their present level. We had never traveled on this furo before, knew nothing of its depth ahead of us, and were not even sure that it ran all the way to the Javary region. So, though we did not worry, we knew it would be well to waste no time and take no chance of finding ourselves stranded in un known country.
When we found firm land and went ashore to sling our hammocks I nicked a tree with my machete, making a mark just at the water-line. The next morning that mark was more than the width of my hand above the surface. And all that day, as we swung on homeward, we saw the wet stains lengthen on the big trunks towering around us and knew we were sinking toward the thick bush submerged far below. So we talked little, ate without delay, and kept going until darkness was near. When we landed again we were tired.
“A good day’s work, comrade,” Pedro said. “I do not know where we are, but we are nearer to the Javary than last night. It is good that the dull skies of the rainy time have gone and the sun shines steadily. Now we can tell better which way we are traveling.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “And now that the sunny verao has come we should hear birds calling more often. This country has been too still to suit me. I should like to hear the sweet song of the realejo—the organ-bird—or the long piping of that fifer, the uira-mimbeu.”
Just then, as if in answer to my wish, a long clear call came floating through the forest. It died so softly that it seemed to hang in the air when we could not hear it more. As we stared at each other it came again. Three times in all it sounded, neither rising nor falling—just the one note, long and slow. Then we heard nothing further.
“That is not a fifer, and it certainly is not the realejo,” said Pedro. “It must be a trumpeter. You have heard that bird, of course.”
I nodded. I had not only heard it, but I had seen it. The trumpeter is that blackish bird which the Peruvians call trompetero—a creature about the size of a big hen, but with longer legs and neck. It is a fast runner but a poor flyer, and the Indians sometimes tame it. I had known one caboclo who kept such a bird, and when it died I carefully cut it open to see how it made its trumpeting cry. I found that its windpipe was very long, running down under the skin almost to the tail, then doubling around and rising again to the chest, where it went inside the breast-bone to the throat.
The sound which had just come to us was much like the call of that bird I had known, and yet it did not seem quite the same. If I had heard it anywhere else I should have said it was made by a man with a horn. But here in this desolate region such a thing seemed not possible, unless the man were an Indian; and a blast from an Indian trumpet would never have such smooth sweetness.
“Yes, it must be the trumpet-bird,” I agreed. “If it would only stay where it is until tomorrow we might see it, for it is over to the westward. But probably we shall not even hear it again.”
I was wrong. We were to hear it once more that day, and several times in the days to come.
WE BUILT a little fire, ate, got into our hammocks, and lay back smoking. Around us it was quite dim; but high up overhead, where were scattered openings in the tangled roof of branches, the sunshine still glinted. Then suddenly it was gone. Darkness swallowed everything but our tiny fire.
With the passing of the sun the distant trumpeter spoke again. And this time the sound was not one unchanging call. Slowly, sweetly, it rose and fell, going higher on each long note, quivering on the highest, and then sinking to the one on which it had begun. There it died away. And we lay there silent, senhores, silent with surprize, and silent with a feeling of loneliness and sadness which that strain left in our hearts.
At last Pedro spoke.
“That is no bird, Lourenço. It is no wild man of the bush, either. Then what can it be?”
“I do not know,” I said. “Some things happen in the jungle which can not be explained. But listen. Perhaps it will come again.”
We listened long, but heard only the usual night sounds. After a time these noises blurred and faded into nothing. I slept.
Morning brought the trumpet-call again. While we were making our coffee we stiffened into listening. The sound was the same one we had first heard—three slow notes in the same tone. But somehow it seemed to us that this time they were weaker than before, and that in them was a note of despair.
We said no word. We only looked at each other. But we hastened our meal, rolled up our hammocks speedily, and paddled away with swift strokes. As we went we searched the jungle with sharp glances. The furo was leading us straight toward the place whence those sounds must have come.
After a time we halted. We had heard nothing more, nor seen anything alive. Yet we knew we must be near the spot we sought.
“It can not be a bird or a beast,” said Pedro. “If it has a body it can be nothing but a man.” Then, breathing deep, he roared out the call we give in our own region when approaching a house—
“O da casa!”
For a moment no answer came. We heard only the slight sucking sound of water around the tree-trunks. Then, not far away to our left, the trumpeter answered. And now the notes were not long and slow. They were quick, urgent, discordant—as if a man were blowing a horn in a frenzy of hope and fear lest we go past and leave him.
We yelled together, swung our dugout, and passed in among the trees toward the noise. Soon we found j,land. We called again, but no voice answered. Several small sounds came to us, though, and we stepped ashore and moved toward them.
Suddenly we stopped, staring at the ground.
A man was dragging himself along toward us. His head hung down so that we could not see his face—only a thick mass of long blond hair. He moved on both hands and one knee. The other leg dragged behind him as if useless. At each forward lift of his knee he grunted as if the movement cost him a mighty effort.
“Stop, friend,” I said quietly. “We are here.”
He stopped. His arms quivered under him, then suddenly bent and let him slump down. But as we dropped on our knees beside him he turned his head and, lying quiet' peered up at us. We looked into blue eyes gleaming in a tanned face overgrown with short yellow beard. The face looked drawn and pinched.
“Howdy!” he said hoarsely. “Got any grub?”
“We have plenty of food, senhor,” Pedro said. “Have you hunger?”
“You said it. That’s all I’ve got—hunger and a busted leg. For the love of God, slip me some eats!”
“Por amor de Deos, we will do so,” smiled Pedro. “Lie still.” And he arose and strode back to our canoe.
WHILE he was gone I looked the man over more deliberately. His speech and his dress—pocketed shirt, khaki breeches, knee boots, web belt and flat pistol—showed him to be American. The clothing was not so badly worn and stained as it would be if he had been long in the bush. The right leg was unbooted, and rough splints were tied to it below the knee. Glancing again at his face, I saw that his teeth were set and the sweat of pain was on his forehead.
“You have hurt that broken leg by your crawling,” I said. “Why did you not lie still and let us come to you?”
“Because that would be the sensible thing to do.” His voice was weak, but he grinned gamely. “I never show any sense. If I did I wouldn’t be here at all. Besides, I’ve been on my back for a week, and I’ve learned what it is to be lonesome.”
“What! You have been lying here a week?”
“Yep. Not here, but back in my tent.”
Before we could talk more, Pedro came hurrying back with a gourd of chibeh. At sight of it the man tried to scramble up, but groaned and sank back. I scolded him, telling him to keep quiet. Then we fed him.
It was not until the gourd was empty that I thought to ask him how long he had been without food. He said it was three days. Then I wished we had fed him more sparingly at first. But since chibeh is only a mush of farinha and water, I decided that it would not hurt him. This proved true.
“Now if I only had a bucket of coffee and a smoke I’d be all set,” said the stranger. “Got a cigaret on you, buddy?”
I quickly made a cigaret for him, and we promised him coffee as soon as we could make it. But first we decided to take him back to his tent and make him more comfortable. So, when he had finished his smoke, we lifted him as gently as possible and carried him back through the bush.
The distance was short, but the traveling was not easy, and in spite of our care we knew we must be hurting his bad leg. Yet he made no sound. Keeping his teeth locked, he stared straight upward until we brought him to his camp.
Beside a huge itauba tree we found his little tent. Inside this his hammock hung. On the ground lay his mosquito-net. We laid him down easily and picked up the net to drape it over him again. On the earth under the net we found a battered bugle.
“So it was this we heard, not a bird,” I said, picking it up and glancing it over. “At first we thought you were a trumpeter.”
He lay quiet a few minutes, his teeth still set. Then, as the pain in his leg grew easier, his jaws unlocked and he grinned in a tight-lipped way.
“I am,” he said. “Been fooling with tin horns since I was a kid. Maybe it’s my name that makes me that way—Horner. Folks used to call me Little Jack Horner, though my first name really is Jerome. How about that coffee, buddies?”
“You shall have it,” I promised. We left him there and returned to our canoe, where we got our coffee and other things and started back.
“A brave fellow, Lourenço,” said Pedro, as we neared the tent. “No fuss, no groan or whine, though he is broken and starved and has been alone with no help in sight. Por Deos! Look there!”
On the ground were jaguar-tracks. They were more than tracks—they made a path, showing that the beast had circled for hours around the tent. The marks seemed fresh.
“You were not alone last night, senhor,” I said, entering the little cloth house.
“Huh? Oh, you mean the big cat. Sure, he did sentry-go around here most of the night. He wouldn’t come in, so I kept still and let him prowl.”
“Your tent saved your life,” Pedro told him. “He could smell you, but he did not know he could force his way through these strange cloth walls. If he had——”
“If he had I’d have eaten him,” Horner cut in. “Did you bring the coffee?”
We made the coffee, and we made it strong. The hot black liquid gave him new vigor. When he had swallowed all he could hold he gave a long sigh.
“Oh boy!” he said. “That’s better than a bushel of that sawdust you fed me. How do you guys live on that farinha stuff, anyhow? It takes pork and beans or ham and eggs to put hair on a fellow’s chest. Now say, while I’m feeling husky I wish you’d straighten out my leg. It feels twisted.”
It was twisted. Working carefully, we reset the broken bone as well as we could and bound new splints on it. As before, he made no sound. When the work was done he calmly asked for another smoke. And then, with the cigaret glowing, he told how he had come there.
HE HAD been a soldier of your United States in the great war in Europe. When the war ended and he returned to his own country, he said, he made the same mistake that many other released soldiers made—he lingered in the vast city of Nova York, quickly spent all his money, and then found himself unable to get work. So, when a chance to make money came unexpectedly to him, he grasped it eagerly.
While he was sitting with other penniless soldiers in a place called Union Square, a tall bony man with strange eyes passed by several times, looking sharply at him and his mates. Then this man asked him and four others to come with him. Being curious, they did so. He led them to a big hotel some distance away, took them to his room, and there made them an odd offer.
He wanted trusty and fearless men to go with him into South America and help him seek something of which he would tell them later on. They would be handsomely paid, and if he found what he sought they would all be made quite rich. There might be danger, he said, but they would be well armed, and the reward would be worth any risk. He bad already obtained the promises of other war veterans to go, and he intended to get more. All the)- had to do was to come along, obey orders, ask no questions, and take their chances of success.
With nothing to lose except their lives, all five of them accepted. Soon afterward they sailed southward with more than a dozen other soldiers whom the bony man had got in the same way. They came up the Amazon and turned into a smaller river, where Indian paddlers in long canoes carried them southward for many days. And in all this time their queer leader never told them where they went or why.
He had been acting oddly for some time, and naturally the men had been talking much among themselves. Now at last they demanded the reason for this long journey into dismal and flooded jungle. Still they got no satisfaction. They were told that they would soon know, but the time had not yet come. Quarreling followed.
The men said they would go no farther. Finding them determined, the bony man suddenly began to rave and shriek. He screamed that he was somebody named Midas, and that he could turn all things to gold by touching them. Then he jerked out a revolver and began shooting at the men.
His bullets killed two soldiers before they downed him. Somebody fired back, and he toppled overboard and never came up again.
After that the men disputed among themselves over what they should do now. None of them had a clear idea as to where they were. Some were for going back as they had come, while others believed that by keeping on they would soon reach the Andes and could then cross the mountains and so reach the western ocean. Before they could settle the question their paddlers brought them to a small Indian settlement where the people gave them welcome. And since all were tired of so much boat travel, they agreed to stay at that place for a few days while they rested and determined what should be done next.
Two days of this were enough for Horner. In spite of much argument, his mates could not yet agree, and he grew too restless to stay idle any longer. So, quietly taking a small canoe, a tent, a little food, his guns and his bugle, he slipped away by himself on an exploring trip to the eastward.
He did not intend to desert his comrades, but only to see what he might see and then return. But he found it so pleasant to be alone that he traveled onward for five days before he tired of it and decided to turn back. Then he became confused among some winding waterways, and before he could find the right one again he met more misfortune. He lost his canoe and broke a leg.
The boat drifted away in the night. While seeking it, he tripped among some vines and snapped his leg over a projecting tree-root. Then he could do nothing but crawl back to his tent, lie there, and blow his bugle in the hope that some of his comrades might seek him.
He knew well that his chance of rescue was slight, for he had left the settlement without telling any one where or why he was going, and the other men probably would think he had gone along the river. And yesterday, he said, his courage had almost failed.
“IT’S the loneliness that gets you,” he added. “Being hungry and busted up is no joke, but knowing that you’ve got less than one chance in a million of coming through is a lot worse. I’ve lain out in No Man’s Land for two nights and a day, with five shrapnel-holes in me and all —— rip-roaring around, and I thought I was out of luck. But I’d rather be there than here any time. A fellow has lots of company out there. Last night I got so down in the mouth I blew taps over myself.”
Seeing that we did not quite understand, he lifted the trumpet which we had laid beside him and blew the sad, sweet song we had heard at sunset.
“That’s Taps,” he explained. “They blow it over dead soldiers. I didn’t know but I might go west before morning, so I did the honors beforehand.”
“But how could you go west without a canoe, senhor?” I asked. He laughed, and explained that by “going west” he meant dying. So then I told him life was going west indeed, but not as he had thought.
Whether we should be able to find the Indian town over to the west we did not know; but if we did not find it, I told him, we would carry him with us all the way northwestward to our own country, where our old coronel would do everything possible for him. And since it was best for all of us that we lose no time, we would get under way at once.
Carrying him and his hammock together to the canoe, we left him there while we took down his tent. On our return we folded the canvas to make a bed in the bottom of the boat, stowed our supplies differently, and helped him in. When he was comfortable he gave a long yawn.
“Guess I’ll rip off a few yards of sleep,” he said. “I’m about all in. Haven’t had a real solid snooze since I cracked my shin.” His eyes closed.
After we had paddled a while Pedro said:
“He spoke truth when he said he would rip off his sleep. Hear him snore!”
I grinned, for the blond trumpeter certainly was a noisy sleeper. But as I thought of the long black nights of pain and hunger and hopelessness that lay behind him his snorts and gurgles did not seem funny at all. Indeed, I marveled that he had not gone mad or ended his torment with one of his bullets.
All the rest of the day he slept while we paddled on. Near night, as we were seeking a sleeping-place, he opened his eyes and blinked at us, the canoe, and the trees.
“Aw shucks!” he grunted. “I’m back here again!”
“Where have you been, Senhor Trumpeter?” laughed Pedro.
“I was back home, playing ball and cussing the umpire because he called me out when I never even offered to swing. Home was never like this. I’ll say not! Say, when do we eat?”
“As soon as we land,” I told him. “Are you ready to eat more of our sawdust?”
“I’ll eat anything, buddy. If you don’t get ashore pretty quick I’ll start chewing your leg.”
Then, lifting his bugle, he blew a loud, lively air, much different from anything we had heard before.
“That’s reveille,” he said. “It means ‘wake up—snap into it.’ Put a hop on your stroke and land me before I get violent.”
“Calm yourself and spare my leg a while longer, and we all shall eat,” I promised. “But I would not blow that trumpet again, senhor, until we reach some place where we know we are more safe. We are few, and it would not be well to let any savage Indians know we are here. Did you blow a bugle in the war?”
“Nope. Not so anybody could hear it. I knew all those army calls before any war came along. Then I wanted to fight, and the only way you can be sure of fighting these days is to make the personnel sharks think you don’t know anything.”
“How is that?” I wondered.
“If you can do anything they try to make you do it in the army. If you’re a mechanic they keep you tinkering on bum motors. If you’re a newspaper man they make you a censor. If you know a shirt from a sock they shove you into quartermaster work. If you’re a cop they make you an M. P.—and then you’re popular, I guess not!
“It’s the same way all along the line. So when my turn came I didn’t know a thing. If they’d learned I could blow a horn they might have made me a bandmaster or something. But seeing I was dead from the neck up, they gave me a gun and let me in on the big show.”
This seemed very queer to us, for we had always thought that in an army everybody was expected to fight. He grinned as he talked, and it may be that he did not mean just what he said. But we spoke no more of the matter, for then we spied a good camping-spot and went ashore. And after eating and smoking, we all slept soundly.
THE next day Horner found himself. Without realizing it, we strayed off the furo into another channel, along which we paddled for some distance before the slant of the sun-thrown shadows warned us that we were off our course. Then, as we slowed and told each other we must go back, the Trumpeter spied an oddly bent tree leaning out over the water ahead.
“Say, this is the way I came!” he told us. “I know that tree. There was a big snake on it. I shot him off, and he kicked up such a riot he nearly upset me. Gee, he was a regular whale! Keep on going, and you’ll hit the burg where the rest of my gang hangs out.”
So we kept on, and as we went he recognized other things along the way.
Two days later we came out into a rather large river flowing northeastward. And there our passenger blew again that dancing reveille tune.
“Home again!” he laughed, when the last note had pealed away through the jungle. “Injun Town is only about half a mile up-stream, and the rough old tough old bunch is waiting for us up there. Snap into it, buddies!”
We snapped into it. We knew how eager he was to meet his comrades again, and it had been some time since we ourselves had talked with white men. So we went up-stream fast.
The Trumpeter was much stronger now after the long sleeps and hearty meals of the past few days, and as we surged on up the river he sat leaning forward, grinning and waiting for a sight of his mates. But as we swung around a bend his smile faded and his jaw dropped.
A little way ahead, under tall trees where little bush grew, a number of Indians were standing at the water’s edge. Several small canoes also were there. But we saw no large boat nor any white men.
“——’s bells!” groaned Horner. “The gang’s gone!”
It was so. Only the Indians waited for us there. They held weapons, and at first they seemed unfriendly. But when we came near and they saw Horner clearly they grinned at him, and as Pedro and I stepped out on shore they greeted us cordially.
A tall, grave man who seemed to be chief spoke in a Tupi tongue, saying they were glad to see again the blower of the horn, and that they had thought him gone forever. I explained why he had left them and why we now came with him, and asked where the other white men were. He said they had gone two days after Horner disappeared; that they believed he had gone up the river, and so they had decided to go that way also. He added that he was sorry to know the blower of the horn had hurt himself, but that a broken bone would soon mend, and all of us were welcome to his village.
“When you guys get through making a noise with your mouths maybe you’ll give me the low-down,” said the Trumpeter. “It don’t make sense to me.”
So I said it all over to him, and asked how he and his fellow soldiers had been able to talk with these people if they knew no Tupi. He said the talking had been done through one of their canoemen. The thought came to me that if he could not speak their tongue he might find it hard to get along with them after we left, and that we had best take him on with us. But I said nothing of this just then. We helped him out and followed the Indians.
They led us only a short distance back from the water, and then we found our selves in a small town of little low houses. The chief took us to one of these, ordered a man and woman living in it to go elsewhere, and told us it was ours. Then he went away, and his men with him. But before he left us he looked shrewdly at our guns and asked whether we could make them speak many times.
Of course we told him yes, we could make them spit death at a whole tribe. This was not true, for we had used up many of our cartridges in a fight with some beastly barbaros back on the Jurua, and now we had not a great number left. But it is not wise to let Indians think you to be weak, even though they are friendly; so we were prompt in our answer. He said it was well.
After we put up our hammocks I told the Trumpeter he had better come on to the Javary with us. Before this he had been one of a score of fighting men, I pointed out, but after we went he would be alone among these Indians, and perhaps he would not be so well-treated as before. So, though the journey to the Javary might be hard, he might come out better in the end than by staying here. But he only laughed.
“Oh, they’re good skates,” he said. “They wouldn’t pull anything raw. You don’t know ’em as well as I do.”
“Perhaps not,” Pedro answered him. “But we have ranged the bush far more than you, senhor, and my comrade here speaks sense. It takes more than a few days to know Indians well; and the ways of Indians toward twenty strong white men and toward one broken white man may not be the same. And these people came to meet us with weapons and their leader just asked us how strong our guns are. True, they seem peaceable, but—you had best go on with us.”
“But I tell you they’re all right,” he insisted. “They’re only a bunch of hicks, and they don’t want trouble with anybody. They raise crops and kids and take it easy, and they’re regular fellows. Walk around and look ’em over. Me, I like ’em fine.”
STILL rather doubtful, we did walk around and look over the place and the people. And we found that it was as he said: the Indians here seemed to be quiet and honest, happy in the peace of their town and content to toil on the plantations beyond it, where the trees had been thinned to let the crops grow. Still, we noticed that here and there were men with weapons, watching the women work and occasionally scanning the thick bush beyond.
Stopping beside one of these armed men, we talked for a time about hunting and such things, and then asked why he and his mates stood guard in this way. In a quiet, respectful manner he replied that they watched lest the place be attacked. And when we asked further about this, he said they had heard that a band of fierce savages was somewhere in the region round about.
Who the bad men were he did not know, nor whether they would come this way. This flood season was not the time for such attacks, he said, for usually those roving bands of warriors were not boatmen and so were more likely to come at the time of low water; but of course one could never know when creatures of that sort would take it into their heads to run wild and kill. He spoke of them as if they were jaguars or other beasts—dangerous animals against which his people must guard themselves but which they considered unworthy of any respect.
Thinking this over, I saw why the chief had asked about the strength of our guns. I thought, too, that this might be one reason why we were so welcome here—three men with rifles would be a great help to him if an attack should come, even though one of us was crippled. I wondered, too, why he had not planned to keep the other Americans here until he knew whether the barbaros were coming this way. So I asked the guard whether they had warned the white men about these savages before they left.
He said no. They themselves had not heard of the wild men until yesterday, he said, and the white men then had been gone for days. He added that he hoped the whites would meet the marauders somewhere up the river, because then there would be a fight, and of course the men with guns would kill all those brutes.
I had some doubt about this, for I thought the soldiers would find fighting in thick jungle to be far different from what they had been accustomed to in Europe. But I told him the white men would surely kill every one of the savages if they met them. Then we went back to Horner, much better satisfied with these people than we had been at first.
“Sure, I knew you’d like these brown boys after you got their range,” said the Trumpeter, when we told him we had changed our ideas. “When you thought they were sneaks you were overshooting. I’m satisfied to stay here until I’m ready to go down-river. So you guys needn’t worry about me, and if you want to move on don’t let me block you.”
We urged him again to come with us, but he flatly refused. Then we went to the chief and asked him whether he had any real reason to expect an attack. He seemed a little surprised that we had learned of this; but he said there was nothing to show that their enemies were coming here, and his men were watching only because they always did so when they heard that bad men were near. So, since the blond American would not go with us, and since we could not dally here long, we decided to continue our homeward journey the next day.
BUT the next day brought squalls. Soon after our morning meal, while we were talking with Horner and the chief and preparing to go, the sunlight was blotted out. Thunder crashed and sheets of lightning dazzled us. A flood of rain fell, driven slantwise by a fierce wind. And when the storm had passed, the chief advised us to stay over for another day.
He said such sudden storms were not uncommon here at this time of year, and that a squall so early in the day would be followed by others. If we went on now we should meet worse weather before long, he told us, and if we were not swamped by some sudden blast of wind we should at least sleep wet and uncomfortable that night. He added that the rains today would make the waters rise, so that we should gain rather than lose by waiting. So why not remain here and be comfortable and visit his people, whom we might never see again?
This sounded sensible, and we were pleased by his honest way of speaking. So we decided to stay until the next morning, and then start early. And we were glad we tarried.
For one thing, we found that he knew the weather. More squalls did come, and they were heavy. Besides this, the people were agreeable companions, and they brought us fresh food, which was a welcome change from the rations we had recently been eating. So, between watching the lightning, eating huge meals, listening to the Trumpeter’s bugle, and talking with the chief and others, we spent the day very pleasantly.
While we talked we cleaned our rifles, which had grown rusty. The chief was much interested in these weapons, partly because he knew little about them and partly because Pedro’s gun and mine were different from that of Horner. Ours were the American repeating rifles generally used in our region, with the lever behind the trigger and a bore of .44 caliber. The Trumpeter’s gun also would repeat, but it looked much different and its action was not the same. The wood under the barrel ran almost to the muzzle, and it was cocked not by a lever but by a sort of handle on the bolt. The bore was much smaller than ours, but Horner insisted that the power of his gun was far greater than that of our big-bulleted weapons. We did not believe him until he told us his was an army rifle. Then we knew it must be high-powered.
The bony man who led him and his comrades here, he said, had managed to get enough of these rifles to arm every man in the party, as well as the flat pistols to which they were accustomed. He added that besides these guns he had something more deadly than any bullet. Then, twitching from his belt a long knife which we had taken for a sort of machete, he snapped it on to the gun under the muzzle.
“That’s the real killer,” he said. “A guy can get all shot up and still live, but when you slide this little old toothpick into a man he’s through. Hot lead is all right, but the cold steel is the stuff that mops ’em up.”
Dropping the blade into a line with my stomach, he made a playful jab upward. I fell over my own feet and knocked Pedro down in dodging away from it. Then Horner chuckled, the chief grinned, and I laughed rather foolishly.
“Don’t feel very good to see that thing start for your lunch-basket, does it, even though I’m only a one-legged crip sitting down?” asked the blond man. “Then figure out how Fritz felt when he saw hundreds of ’em coming over. He sure made himself, and then some.”
After he explained what A W O L meant, I said I did not blame Fritz for going somewhere else without orders. I added that in this thick jungle of ours such a weapon was likely to be more useful in a fight than a far-shooting gun. His answer disturbed me a little.
“Yep, and if I hook up with any tough nuts before I hit the Amazon I may have to use it. The gang carried off all the ammunition with them, and all I’ve got left is two clips for the rifle and one for the pistol. But when I get my legs under me again I can show anybody that wants a row some wicked bayonet stuff.”
Pedro and I glanced at each other, but said nothing. Our cartridges would not fit his gun, so that even if we could have spared any they would have been useless to him. We could do nothing to help him—or so we thought. Yet before we were many hours older we were to help him much.
With one final ripping squall the day ended. Before the rain stopped the light had gone. A moonless night followed. As we intended to start early the next day, we soon got into our hammocks. Before we slept the Trumpeter blew again, loud and clear, that song of Taps.
“Why do you do that, senhor?” asked Pedro. “There are no dead soldiers here.”
“Right. But Taps isn’t just a dead man’s time. It means ‘good night—sleep tight—all’s well.’ I’m just saying good night to that bunch of gorillas that beat it up-stream while I was away. They can’t hear it, but they’re getting ready to snooze now somewhere up there, and maybe they’re thinking about me.”
Though he spoke lightly, we could see that his heart was lonely for the companionship of those “gorillas.” We said no more. Soon we slept.
Before daybreak Pedro and I awoke and arose. Around us it was very dark, but not silent. Horner was trumpeting through his nose, and from other little huts near by the snores of sleeping Indians came back like echoes. Outside we could see nothing but the vague loom of the jungle against the star-spattered sky. So, since it was too dark to take down our hammocks, we sat down in them again and smoked, waiting for the shadows to lift.
Soon a wan light dawned on the clearing. The trees became trees instead of a black blot. The sun was not up, and a thin mist blurred the air, but day had come. We snapped our cigaret-butts through the door way, and stood up.
THEN came war.
A long harsh trumpet-blast tore across the gurgling chorus of snores. A roar of yelling voices followed. Out from the edge of the jungle sprang naked warriors. Through the mist they came bounding toward the huts, howling and brandishing spears and clubs and bows. Other cries answered them: shouts of men springing awake, screams of women terrified by that awful trumpeting—the deadly blare of the turé, war-horn of brutal murderers.
We swooped up our guns, sprang outside, opened fire. The leaping brutes nearest us swerved and fell. Others screeched sharply in shocked surprize and stopped. They had not expected to find men with guns here. For an instant they wavered. While they hesitated we dropped several more of them. Then our hammers snapped down on empty chambers. But as we turned toward our door, the barbaros also turned and ran.
It was only those fronting us, though, who fled. The rest, though they slowed and looked toward the roar of our rifles, came on. But now they ran into a rain of arrows shot by the Indians who had sprung from their houses, and more of them fell. We saw nothing further just then, for we dashed into our hut to get more cartridges.
The American was sitting up, and he asked no questions—he was a soldier. As we swiftly reloaded and shoved our remaining cartridges into our pockets he said with a tight-faced grin:
“Go to it, buddies! Blow ’em wide open! Get around behind the house! I’ll handle anything in front.”
He was sitting on the edge of his hammock, with his crippled leg resting in it and the other foot on the ground to steady him. On his lap he held his rifle, pointing toward the door, and the long hungry-looking knife gleamed at its muzzle. We saw this in a flash, and then we were outside again.
Even as I left the door I met a big savage running toward it. He hurled a short spear, but I ducked and shot him in the stomach. Pedro’s rifle cracked twice, but I did not look around, for I knew he had killed his men. The American’s order to get behind the house was a good one, and I followed it. At a rear corner I halted and looked about.
The barbaros had swept in from all sides at once, and fierce close fighting was going on everywhere. A few arrows darted out from the houses, but the combat was mostly hand-to-hand. Stabbing, clubbing, choking and clawing and breaking bones, small knots of men struggled desperately for mastery. Caught by surprize and perhaps outnumbered as well, the townsmen seemed to be getting the worst of it; but they fought furiously to protect their women and children, who kept screaming as if they were already being murdered.
Picking my men, I fired again and again into the battling barbaros. Behind me, on the other side of the hut, sounded Pedro’s gun. Then from the house itself came a shot—a sharp crack not like the blunt bark of our own weapons. Twice more that army gun cracked, and then it was still.
When my gun was empty again I shouted to Horner, asking if all was well. In answer his bugle rang out. Above the screams, the fighting yells, and the hoarse bellowing of the savage turé it sounded—quick, sharp blasts on the same note, lifting suddenly to two higher ones, dropping back then to the same tone as before. And it did not stop. Over and over it blared defiantly, hammering away at our ears until the men defending their homes seemed to gain fresh strength from it.
Whether the urge of that trumpet really did give them new power, or whether it and our bullets together brought fear into the minds of the wild men, I do not know. But I do know that soon the fighting died. While I was emptying my gun once more I saw that the attackers were giving way toward the bush and our friends were battling harder than ever. Before I had filled my magazine again the savages on my side of the town were gone.
Running around to the front, I found that there too the space was clear except for the townsmen and a few men grappling on the ground. The battered defenders pounced on these small groups, and when they turned away the barbaros who had been fighting there were dead.
The war-horn had stopped blowing. The cries of the children too had ended, and the yelling men were still. Only the bugle sang on in the same quick tune. Then, with one long flare, it became silent.
“Pretty slow stuff!” grumbled the Trumpeter as we stepped into the hut. “If that’s the best your South American bad-men can do I don’t think much of them. All I had to do was to pot two or three out front here and then toot my horn to pass away the time.”
“You did not see much of the fight, senhor,” Pedro reminded him. “You are inside, and the walls shut out most of it. Yet it was not such close work as some I have seen—at least not for us three. Our friends had their hands full beating them off.”
“Slow stuff,” Horner repeated, yawning. “Did the chief come through all right? If so, tell him I’m hungry.”
WE LAUGHED, went out, and looked about for the chief. But we did not see him anywhere. Some of the Indians were picking up their dead and wounded, while others stood watching the jungle where their enemies had disappeared. We passed along among these, glancing at the bodies and noticing that there were more dead townsmen than savages. The wounded, of course, were defenders, for the injured at tackers all had gotten away into the bush or been killed when their mates retreated. Without trying to count the dead, we could see that without our bullets to aid them our friends would have been quickly overwhelmed and butchered.
We could not find the chief among either the living or the dead there in the clearing, so we asked men what had become of him. They told us he was hurt and now was in his own house. They said also that, armed only with a club, he had killed three of the barbaros; and they showed us the bodies, each with its head crushed.
When we entered the chief’s hut we found that he had not fared any too well. His left shoulder was badly torn by a spear-thrust, and a long arrow stuck out from one leg. A little old man whom we had not seen before was working to pull out the shaft, but its head was buried so deeply in the muscles that he was only hurting the chief, who sat silent but with lips drawn tight.
Looking up and seeing us, the chief motioned for me to draw that arrow out. I did so, but I had to pull hard, with one foot against the leg to brace it. When it came away the chief rocked in his hammock with pain, though he still gave no whimper. A look at the arrow-head showed me why it had stuck so stubbornly. It had double barbs, pointing both forward and back, which tore the flesh when they went in and when they came out, and which would prevent the shaft from being removed by pushing it on through the wound instead of drawing it out backward.
It was one of the most cruel weapons we had ever seen, and the sight of it angered us. Until now we had not felt any great hatred for those wild men: we had fought only because we were attacked, and so must kill or be killed. But those barbs, deliberately placed so that they would torture a man wounded but not killed, made us hot.
“If the brute who made this is still alive I hope he has one of my bullets in his bowels,” I growled.
“And I wish I could shoot a few more of them,” said Pedro.
We talked in our own language, but the chief was watching us while the little old medicine man worked on his wounds, and perhaps he understood. He spoke, telling us to keep our guns ready for quick use when the time should come. The barbaros, he said, probably would attack again.
Somewhat surprized, I said we thought the fighting had ended. He shook his head, saying that it was not the way of those fierce men to quit while many of them were left alive. They had expected to overpower him and his people by attacking while the town still slept, but our prompt and deadly fire had surprized and confused them so that they could be fought off. But now they were preparing for another assault, and when they were ready they would come in spite of our guns, and the next fight would be to the death.
He added that unless we and our guns were strong the wild men would win. Many of his best men were dead or hurt, and he himself could not fight so well as before. He spoke very calmly, as if only saying that it might rain before night; but his eyes went to his two small children, who stood close by and watched the medicine man. We too looked at them—chubby little fellows with round faces and wide eyes—and shut our teeth. And though we knew our cartridges now were far too few, we told him our guns were strong enough to wipe out those beasts of the bush if his people would fight as bravely as before. He answered simply that they would fight until they died.
Soberly we went back to the Trumpeter, taking with us the bloody double-barbed arrow. We told him all there was to tell, and gave the arrow to him. As he studied it his face hardened.
“Dirty mutts!” he said. “If they’d shoot a thing like that into a man what would they do to the women and kids? Blast ’em, I hope they do come back—I want another crack at them! And say, if they come don’t stick around this shack. Pick a couple of places where you can get a cross-fire and make your bullets count. I’ll take care of my end of the riot.”
Then he grinned.
“Gee, but wouldn’t the gang be hopping mad if they knew they’d missed a regular row! By this time they must be half-way to Borneo, or Bolivia, or whatever you call that spiggoty country down south, and wishing something would happen. And here squats little old Jack Horner, the poor crip, with a real rough-house coming off and not another Yank to see it. If I ever meet up with that bunch of gorillas again won’t I rub it into ’em! Say, when do we eat?”
We did not eat at once, but after a time food came to us. Armed men watched ceaselessly, and nobody went close to the bush, but otherwise life went on much as usual in and around the houses. We breakfasted heartily, talked more with Horner, and tried to pick places for that cross-fire he wanted. But this we could not do with any certainty because we could not guess how the next attack would be made.
All around the clearing rose the jungle, and the barbaros might burst out from any part of it. They might come as they had come before, from all points at once, or they might divide into parties and charge from several different quarters. If we fixed any particular spots for our firing we might find ourselves in the wrong places when we were needed. So, after some argument, we decided simply to take things as they came and do our best to meet whatever plan our foes had.
“One thing is pretty sure,” said Horner, “and that is that they won’t come just the way they did the first time. They attack by trumpet-signal, and that shows they’ve got some idea of teamwork. Fighting men with any brains don’t pull the same stuff twice running, and you’ve got to watch out for a trick this time. Tell the chief not to let all his men go piling into the first bunch that shows up, but to hold some in reserve until he sees where he can use them best.”
That was sense, and I took the message to the chief while Pedro stayed and watched. I found the tribal ruler now sitting quietly with his leg and shoulder bandaged with pads of bark-cloth, and talking with several of the older men. He agreed that the advice of the white soldier was good, and gave orders to those with him that certain men should be held back for a time. He asked me also whether I would direct the fighting of those men. But I refused, for I wanted nothing to think of but my own work, and I knew his men would understand their own leaders better than me. Then I returned to our hut.
A LONG time dragged past. The sun rolled high and hot in an unclouded sky. We talked little and smoked much—I do not believe I had ever smoked so many cigarets in one morning. Around the other huts hung the strained silence of tense waiting. At the edge of the jungle no life showed, and from it came no sound. Between houses and bush the only living things were the vultures that had swooped down and were stripping the bones of the dead wild men.
“Ho-hum!” yawned the Trumpeter. “This is the hardest part of war—waiting for the other guy to start something. I’m getting sleepy. Might as well have a little music. Guess I’ll give those roughnecks out yonder the reveille and wake ’em up.”
As his rollicking tune ended Pedro leaned forward, listening. A confused noise, muffled by the bush, sounded and died.
“The barbaros!” I said.
“Perhaps so,” he replied doubtfully. “It seemed like the voices of men shouting together, but I did not think our enemies were so far away.”
Again we listened, but no further sound came. We settled back into waiting.
“Lourenço,” my partner said softly after a time, “do you see something climbing in that tall slim tree over yonder?”
Following the line of his pointing finger, I glimpsed a dark body moving upward at the edge of the bush. The leaves between it and us were so thick that I could not see it clearly, and soon I lost it altogether.
“Yes. I saw it. But I can not see it
“I can. It has stopped and is resting on a limb. Perhaps, Senhor Trumpeter, your music has made the blower of the turé jealous. If that is he, I will play him a tune on this little steel pipe.”
Lifting his rifle, he rested it against the side of the doorway and stood aiming steadily at the thing in the tree. And soon his joking remark proved truth.
Out from that tree broke the bellow of the war-horn. Pedro’s rifle spat. The blare of the turé ended abruptly. The dark form fell crashing down through the branches.
Yells sounded behind our hut. Pedro and I jumped around the corners. A mass of savages was charging straight at us.
As we threw up our guns the mass split into three bodies. One swerved to the right, one to the left, and the third came on. At the head of this middle force ran a huge brute smeared with red paint, wearing a belt of human hair and a necklace of human teeth, howling like a madman and carrying a tremendous club.
We both shot him at the same instant. He pitched on his face and lay quiet. Over his body the others jumped, and we fired so fast that we killed some while they were still in the air. A small heap of corpses grew between us and the dead leader. Other warriors stumbled over these bodies, falling themselves and tripping more men behind them. By the time our guns were empty the force of the rush was broken.
But we got little time to reload. I managed to get two more cartridges into the magazine before the first barbaros reached me, and I fired these straight into their faces. Then I swung my gun, braining one man with the barrel, and dropped the empty weapon. Seizing the warrior I had just killed and holding him up before me as a shield, I pulled my machete and set my back to the wall.
JUST what happened after that I can not tell you. It was stab—slash—dodge aside—stab and slash again, always holding that dead man in front and keeping the wall behind. All I can remember is snarling faces, stinking breath, grunts and groans and screeches, blood and brains and entrails. At last, gasping and dizzy with exhaustion and half-blinded with blood from a gash on my forehead, I leaned against the wall and found no man attacking me.
On the ground near me four men were heaving and wrenching, and out of the tangle a red machete rose and fell. By the time I got my wind and stood away from the wall their fight was over. Up from among the bodies rose a half-naked, red-smeared figure which reeled toward me. I lifted my machete to attack it. Then I recognized the bloody man as Pedro.
He stumbled against the wall and slouched there, sick from fatigue and blows. When he could breathe naturally again he twisted his split lips in a grin.
“Drop it!” he wheezed, looking at the dead savage still clutched in my left arm.
After a glance at it I dropped it. Its head was no longer a head but a crushed pulp, battered in by club-blows aimed at me. Its trunk, too, was full of gaping wounds, and several short spears stuck out from its ribs.
We picked up our guns and reloaded. The cartridges were our last, and so few that neither of us could fill his magazine. We looked at each other and at the fighting around us. And Pedro said—
“We must keep these for our last stand.”
It was so. The townsmen were being beaten down. Near us no man lived, but we knew our turn would come again all too soon, and that then our rifles and machetes would not save us long. The women and children were screaming again, and the yells of the savages spoke brutal exultation. Already some of them had stopped fighting and were butchering the wounded.
Behind us the army rifle cracked twice. Horner still lived. Dimly I remembered hearing him shoot several times while we fought. Now we ran back to the front of the hut, and there we found another fierce fight going on all along the line. The wild men had charged from the bush on this side also, and only the American’s foresight in providing for reserves had prevented them from catching the chief’s men from behind. These men, held back from meeting the rush at the rear, had stopped the one in front. But here too they were being killed faster than they were killing.
The end of all of us was close at hand, and we two stopped at the corners and held our fire for our last fight. But then a pair of red-streaked brutes went plunging into a hut close by, and out from that house a long scream rose high over the other cries around us—the shriek of a woman in an agony of fear. It was too much for me.
I dashed down to that place, shooting down a savage who got in my way, and attacked the murderers inside, who had seized a woman and a child. Two more of my bullets were gone when I came out; but the woman and child still lived, while their assailants did not.
As I left the doorway another wild man came bounding at me. Firing from the hip, I shot him in the body. He fell, writhed, clawed the ground, went limp and was still. The downward yank of my lever brought up only an empty shell. My last shot was gone.
A thrown spear thudded into the wall. Several more barbaros were coming at me. I sprang back into the house, where, with machete drawn, I waited just inside the door. But most of those killers never reached me.
A sudden crash of gunfire ripped, out. Two of the charging savages toppled sidewise. The others stopped, faced to their left, poised there staring. At the same instant the wild yelling ceased. It seemed still as the grave.
CRASH! Another volley.
One of the wild men before my door doubled in at the middle and dropped. Another fell backward, the top of his head gone. Only one was left standing. He whirled about, looked this way and that, and bolted for the shelter of the hut where I stood. As he came I saw that now his face was drawn with fear.
I stepped aside. As he plunged in at the doorway I swung my machete hard to his throat. He flopped down, his head cut almost off. The woman and child cowering behind me screamed again, but I gave no attention to them. I popped out into the open.
No more volleys came. Instead, the firing now was a steady crackle. Naked men were dropping dead. Other savages were running—some toward the bush, some toward houses, some straight at the place where the shooting sounded. That place was near the river, and there among the shadows I saw gleaming steel, spurts of flame, yellow shirts and broad hats.
The Trumpeter’s “gorillas” had come back.
SHOUTING in wild joy, the desperate townsmen sprang again on their confused enemies. With spears, clubs, bare hands, they fought as if suddenly given new life. Then a whistle shrieked out—one long blast—and at once the firing ceased.
With the end of the shooting, wild men who had taken cover came running out again and rushed toward the yellow shirts. They thought—and so did I—that the bullets were used up. But the riflemen had not stopped fighting. They had only begun. With a roar they came lunging forward, the long knives on their guns flashing in the sunlight.
Then, while I stood there staring like a fool, I saw what those knives could do in the hands of men trained to their use. I had thought the bayonet must be a slow weapon, but I learned otherwise. Those grim-faced Americans seemed hardly to be really fighting, but only to be jabbing and dancing about; yet the savages swarming at them dropped, dropped, dropped, and the soldiers kept coming on.
But they came more and more slowly, and soon they were stopped. Heaving, hacking, stabbing, spearing, white and brown men were locked in a solid mass. And then, with the barbaros jamming together, the shooting started again.
The shots sounded dull and muffled now. Later I learned that this was because the muzzles were almost against the skins of the barbaros, and also that each of those bullets tore through two or three men. The firing did not last long, but it seemed to blow the wild men off their feet. So many fell dead at once that they blocked and bore down the others, and what had been a tangle of raging warriors became a heap of flesh.
Out of that pile squirmed men yelping with terror, who tried to break loose and run. And into that pile plunged the soldiers, reaching the struggling barbaros with tremendous long thrusts and spearing them like fish. Here and there a savage managed to pull himself out of the welter and run, but none of these ran far. The townsmen cut them off and slew them before they could reach the shelter of the jungle.
“Lourenço! To the rear!” called Pedro’s voice.
I started, looked around, could not see him, and got around the hut quickly. I had forgotten all about the fighters on the other side of the houses. There too I found white men battling hard, and these had not overcome their foes. There seemed to be fewer soldiers and more savages on this side, and the two forces were not locked together but broken up into scattered groups, every white man fighting his own battle against a number of copper-skins.
Pedro, after his shout to me, had thrown himself into this fighting and was swinging his machete on wild men who were swarming on a lone soldier. As I ran I picked another group doing the same thing, and a few seconds later I was hacking at their necks. For a while I was very busy. Then I found a limping townsman helping me with a spear, and between the soldier in front and us two in the rear we cleaned up that group.
Shots cracked around us as the last wild man fell at our feet. New yells rang out. Barbaros ran for the bush. The soldiers and village Indians from the other side of the town had swept in here to finish the battle. With their coming the wild men had bolted, and they found nothing to do but stand and shoot rapidly. When the crackle ceased no living enemy was left in sight.
“PHOOEY!. ’Tis a hot day for workin’!” panted the soldier whom I had helped, mopping his broad face with a sleeve and grinning at me. “Thanks for carvin’ up them guys the way ye done. I been gittin’ fat, and me wind ain’t what it was.”
“And I thank you, senhor, and your comrades, for coming when you did,” I said. “My last shot was gone.”
“Was it so? I wouldn’t think ye’d need a gun anyways, feller. Ye sure can sling a wicked knife.”
Then up came another soldier—a long, lean, easy-moving, red-spattered man.
“Howdy, mistuh,” he drawled, looking at me. “Have yuh seen a good-fo’-nothin’ rapscallion named Hawnuh—a li’l cuss with a brass hawn an’ a lot o’ gall?”
“He is in that house, senhor,” I nodded. “My partner and I found him with a broken leg and brought him back here.”
The tall man lifted his brows slightly.
“Laig busted, huh? Reckon we bettuh mosey ovuh an’ see how he come through this li’l pahty. Nawthin’ mo’ to do heah—these town boys will do the moppin’ up. Come on, Mike, yuh fat Dutchman.”
“Dutchman!” snorted the broad-faced man. “Ye slabsided skeleton of a down-South hookworm, if I’m a Dutchman ye’re a greaser.”
The lean man grinned a slow grin, but made no answer, and we moved toward the Trumpeter’s hut. Other soldiers joined us on the way, looking curiously at me.
“Friend of mine,” said the man Mike, noticing these looks and moving his head toward me. “Who he is I dunno, but he’s there wit’ the rough stuff. Anybody cashed in?”
“All present or accounted for,” answered a stocky soldier with bow legs. “Tim Moran is busted up some, and so are Chicago Tony and Scotty McLeod, but nobody’s gone.”
“Arrugh!” grunted Mike. “Tim and Scotty need a swift kick for mixin’ in at all—they’re both rotten wit’ fever. And that little fightin’ fool of a Chicago wop— Holy Mother! Whaddye know about this!”
We had come around to the front of the house of the Trumpeter, and we stopped and stared. Its doorway was choked by a heap of dead barbaros.
“Hey, you Jack Horner!” some man snapped. “You all right?”
“Sure, I’m all right,” came the Trumpeter’s cool voice. “Kick that stuff out of the door and come on in.”
We threw the dead aside and entered. Horner stood on his one good leg, with the other knee supported by the hammock. His rifle-butt rested on the ground, and the long bayonet sticking up near his shoulder was dyed red.
“Who gave you guys any license to horn in on my party?” he complained. “Here I’m getting a lot of good bayonet practise and you bust in and shoot up the whole works just when I’m going good. What you doing here, anyhow? Did the spiggoties down in Borneo give you the gate?”
“Listen at him, will ye!” rumbled Mike. “Talkin’ like he was a growed-up man! And him blowin’ the guts out of his tin horn a while back, tryin’ to git reinforcements!”
“Not by a jugful!” Horner denied. “I blew the Charge, but I did it just to make a racket and give these boys out here a little pep. Where were you guys, anyway?”
“Up-stream a ways. We found it bum goin’, so we turned around and come back. We camped above here last night, and heard ye play taps. When yer Charge come to us this mornin’ we took our foot in our hand and come on. Didn’t ye hear us yell when ye blew reveille?”
“I heard shouting, senhor,” said Pedro. “But we thought it must be barbaros.”
“’Twas a bum guess—there ain’t a barber in the gang,” said Mike. “But now listen here, Kid Horner. We got' to slide right along down-stream before any more of the bunch kick off wit’ fever. Eb Peabody, that New England feller, cashed in a couple days ago, and Tim Moran and Scotty are gittin’ bad too. I hear they come ashore here wit’ the rest of the gang and got mauled, and that won’t do ’em no good. So we’ll move as soon as we can git them lousy paddlers back—they was that scairt of the wild guys they beat it acrost the river as quick as we landed.
“I’ll go git ’em now. When we’re ready we’ll give ye a yell. Slim, stay here and help Jack frog it down to the water. Fall in, the rest of ye.”
He turned and went, followed by all except the lean man with the slow drawl, who stood calmly chewing tobacco and spitting in the eye of a dead savage who lay face upward.
“Yuh li’l hawn-toad, yuh!” said Slim. “Yuh sho’ did tickle these felluhs’ ribs some. Whyn’t yuh jab ’em lowuh down? Yuh might of busted the steel on them rib-bones, an’ then whah’d yuh been?”
“Had to take ’em any way I could get ’em, Slim,” replied Horner. “They rushed the place after Pedro here left, and if I hadn’t plugged a couple and sort of choked up the door with them they might have got me. Then I jabbed straight and withdrew quick. You can’t do any footwork when you’ve got a dead leg. Ho-hum. I sort of hate to leave this town, it’s so quiet and peaceful.”
Slim grinned, and we laughed. After looking at the dead men a minute Pedro strode out, crossed the clearing, and disappeared into the bush. Soon he returned with a long tube.
“Perhaps you would like a remembrance of the peace and quiet of our Brazilian forests, senhor,” he suggested. “Here is the turé of the barbaros.”
“Say, that’s mighty white of you!” cried the Trumpeter, reaching eagerly for it. After turning it over and examining its wooden barrel and crude mouthpiece he unfixed the bayonet from his rifle and passed the gun to Pedro.
“It’s a fair swap,” he said. “You guys will likely need a gun before you get home, and yours are no good with your ammunition all gone. The gang will give you plenty of shells. I won’t need the gun any more.”
Knowing we were indeed likely to need a gun before reaching the Javary, we took the weapon thankfully. Then came a yell from the river, and Slim came in, took Horner’s arm around his shoulders, and started with him to the stream. We took down the hammocks and followed.
AT THE house of the chief we stopped to say farewell, and from him we learned that about a mile down the river we should find a channel which would take us on toward our own country. Then, with a final wave of the hand to the townsmen who had been our hosts and fighting-mates, we went on to the water.
There we found two big ygarités—long canoes with arched cabins—manned by stocky caboclos. And there we found waiting for us another of those heavy army rifles and many of the queer bottle-necked cartridges that went with it. The gun, we learned, was that of the man Peabody who had died of fever, and we were welcome to it. After big Mike had shown us how to work the bolt action and explained what he called a “safe” and a “cut-off,” we got into our own canoe and took up our paddles.
“All set back there, Brazil?” some one called.
“All set, North America,” we answered.
Our little fleet pushed off and swung away toward the far-off Amazon.
Though our canoe was lighter and faster than the big ygarités, we had to stretch our muscles to keep up with them. Perhaps because of the sick men aboard, but more likely because they themselves were homeward bound, the caboclos heaved their craft along with swift, hard strokes. It seemed that we had gone much less than a mile when we spied at our left the channel of which the chief had told us.
“Adeos, senhores!” we shouted then, and swerved toward the bank. But a roar of protest followed. The big canoes stopped, and the soldiers yelled to us to come on. When we did so they told us they had thought we would camp with them a few times, and urged us to continue on with them for a day or so. But we said no, the water was ebbing and we must cut across country here.
One by one they shook our hands, slapped our shoulders, and wished us well. When the Trumpeter’s turn came he said less than any of them, but there was that in his eyes and his grip that spoke louder than all the jovial voices of his mates.
“So long, buddies,” he said simply. “I want to take back what I said about that sawdust grub of yours. And any guy that I ever catch knocking Brazilians is going to get one stiff clout in the jaw from little Jack Horner.”
I grinned, but my thoughts were back in the jungle behind us. Somehow I seemed to see him again as on that first day—hunching himself along on hands and knee, sick and starved and broken, yet unflinching and brave clear through. And, though I too said little, when my hand left his it was numb.
With one final chorus of farewells the big boats moved away. We wriggled our fingers to bring back the blood driven out by those parting grips and paddled back to the place were the furo opened. And there, as we turned into the bush, we heard our last of the Trumpeter and his comrades.
Out broke the hoarse, menacing blare of the turé, now blown only in fun by some homeward-bound soldier. As its growl died, the clear, smooth notes of the bugle rang again in that swift “charge” which had brought the fighting men of North America that morning to pull us out of the jaws of death. Finally, when the bugle in turn was still, there came to us a roaring, rollicking song.
“HAIL! HAIL! The gang’s all here!
What the —— do we care?
What the —— do we care?
HAIL! HAIL! The gang’s all here!
What the —— do we care now?”