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"THE TAILED MEN"
by Arthur Friel |
from Adventure, February 18, 1921

Brazillian rain forest explorers encounter terrifying animal-men!

THOSE are true words, senhor, though spoken in jest. You say that if men were shaped to fit their natures some would find it hard to wear hat and trousers, because they would have horns and tails.

I have met men who should have been so marked, and who ought also to have had claws instead of hands and split hoofs instead of feet; for, though their bodies were human, they were fiends at heart. True, in time their malice became known, and at last their own evil deeds caused their deaths, but not until they had brought much misery to others. How much blood and tears could be saved if only Deos Padre would make men—and women too—so that their natures could be seen at once.

Yes, that is a useless wish. But your remark, senhor, brings to my mind a memory of the strangest creatures I ever saw—creatures so queer that perhaps you will not believe me when I tell of them. Yet the tale will pass the time while we lounge here on the steamer's deck, and anything which kills the tedium of this long journey down the Amazon is worthwhile.

Now you two North American explorers, if I am not mistaken, have been adventuring in the country along the river Javary and westward in Peru toward the Ucayali. Then you have not visited the river Jurua, east of the Javary? It is well. If ever you return to Brazil and go far up that river, be prepared for trouble.

I have been there—and I am not going back. If the floods had not been very heavy that year I should never have gone there at all. With my comrade, Pedro Andrada, I had recently been out on a long rambling trip through the wild jungle along the border of Brazil and Peru, and there we had met with hardships which made us satisfied to stay in idleness at Remate de Males, a Javary town where we rubber-workers gathered in the rainy season. But now, loafing one day at the store of a trader with nothing to do but smoke and watch the dirty waters swirling past, we grew restless again.

“Lourenço, too much idleness is worse than too much work,” said Pedro, yawning and stretching his powerful arms. “I feel stupid, and you are getting fat. If the flood does not go down soon you will get such a big belly that you will grunt like a sloth every time you tap a tree.”

This was only a joke, for, though I am broad and had grown heavy from inaction, I had not swollen up along the belt-line. But I felt sluggish, as he did, and so weary of lounging that I wished someone would start a fight, or anything else that would quicken my blood. Lazily I tried to think of something we could do, but the only ideas that came to me were old ones and not worth trying. So I only grunted and sat still, looking up the river.

Something was floating down toward us and I watched it because there was nothing else to look at—drifting trees were so common that I hardly ever noticed them. As this thing came nearer, though, I saw that it was not a tree but a small canoe. It swung slowly around on the current, seeming empty and useless.

“There is something we can do,” I said, nodding toward it. “A short paddle will stretch our muscles and give us another boat.”

He yawned again and untied our own canoe, fastened to a post of the store. I got up and splashed toward it—the water was so high that, in spite of the tall poles on which the store stood, it flowed over the platform—and we were about to step in when Pedro started.

Por amor de Deos!” he cried. “Look!”

The drifting boat was quite near us now. Above its edge something had risen and was moving weakly in little jerks; a thing like a skinny claw, or the hand of a man almost dead from starvation or fever, trying to attract attention and bring help. As we stared it dropped out of sight.

Without a word we leaped into our canoe and drove our paddles in deep. We were both old in the ways of the bush, and we knew what to expect. Yet the man we found out there on the river was in such a condition that even we, who had looked on many hard sights, turned cold as we stared down at him.

He seemed dead. His eyes were fixed and glassy, his mouth open, his chest motionless, his body shrunken to a skeleton. This did not disturb us, for we who work in the jungle of Javary see much of death. He was totally naked, and scabbed from head to foot by the bites of thousands of piums or carrapatos. Yet this did not shock us either, for any man who travels the Brazilian bush will be badly bitten at times by insects, and if he loses his clothing he will suffer much. The things that chilled us were two—the fear stamped deep in his ghastly face, and the marks of torture.

The scars were not new, but they were plain.

They were the marks of fire and knife. And the worst of all was that he had been not only burned and cut, but mutilated.

Gripping the edge of his canoe, we went drifting down the current, looking at him and at each other.

It seemed useless to take him ashore, for there was nothing to show who he was or whence he came, and the water was so high that we should have some trouble in finding a good place to bury him.

Yet we nodded to each other, and were preparing to tow him in, when we jumped as if a snake had struck at us. He moved!

We had fully decided that he was dead, and that the fluttering movement of the hand we had seen was his last struggle. And when you see a dead man move, senhores, you are likely to recoil from him. We twitched our hands away from his boat.

Before it could float off, though, we grabbed it again and hung on. His movement had been slight, only a quivering of the arms and a rise of the chest, with a low moaning sound as he breathed. Now, seeing that he still lived, we swiftly fastened his craft to ours and bent our paddles in hard strokes back to town.

Other men loafing at the doors facing the river had been watching us, and some of them were coming in their montarias and dugouts to see what we had found. Warning them out of the way, we drove ahead at full speed straight to the small barracão where we lived. There we put him into a hammock and poured brandy into his mouth.

He strangled, shivered a little, and coughed. We rubbed his cold hands and feet, raised and lowered his arms and legs, and gave him more brandy. Soon he began to breathe more deeply, and his eyes moved and stared at us. But no light showed in those eyes; they were as blank as those of a fish.

“You are safe now, friend,” said Pedro. “Lie still and rest, and you will soon be strong again.”

Then he turned to the men who had crowded into our house after us.

“Do not stand idle!” he commanded. “Do you not see that he is naked and starving? Meldo, your woman is a good cook—go at once and have her make some broth. You others, go to Joaquim's store and get more brandy—this is gone. And bring clothes.”

They went, all except Domengos Peixoto, a surly sot whom nobody liked. I asked him what he waited for, and he answered that there was no sense in rushing about for a man who would soon be dead. This angered us both. Pedro roughly grabbed him and shoved him toward the door, and I kicked him out into the water. He scrambled out, got into his montaria, and went away cursing.

AFTER he was gone, though, we had to admit that he probably was right when he said this man would not live. Not only was he at the point of death from sickness and suffering and starvation, but he was crazed. Staring straight ahead, he was whispering and muttering, and his look of fear was even stronger than before.

We bent over him, listening. His talk was broken and confused. The terrible mud was dragging him down, he said. The jungle was black, black, and a jaguar was snarling under his tree. A huge snake was coiled beside his canoe, and if he could kill it he would eat it, but he had no weapon.

The piums were a torment as bad as fire. Something with a long black tail was grinning at him. Oh for a machete or a rifle! These things, and many more, he mumbled.

“Poor fellow, he raves of the terrors of the unknown jungle where he has been,” said Pedro. I nodded, for I too had seen men whose brains were twisted by hardship. But before I could answer, the man screamed out:

“The tailed men! The tailed men! Devils of hell, they—ah! Drop that knife! I will do it; I will do it; yes, yes, but put away that knife!”

He cringed and shivered miserably as he screeched.

“Have courage, comrade!” Pedro soothed. “We will protect you. There are no knives or—or tailed demonios here.”

But the human wreck lay whimpering and moaning, and we could make nothing of his words.

Then Meldo came hastening in with a bowl of hot broth, and the other men arrived with clothes and more brandy, followed by still more men who had come to see what was going on. We raised the sufferer in his hammock and began to feed him the soup.

The smell of that food seemed to give him strength, and he sucked it up so greedily that we had to restrain him from seizing it and burning himself. When it was gone we pulled shirt and trousers on him and laid him back. He grew stupid, like an animal which has starved and then gorged itself. Our hopes rose a little, for we thought he might sleep and gain power to live. So we drove everyone out, and, though some would not go away but stayed outside in their boats, the house became quiet. We sat in the other hammock, silently waiting.

All that afternoon we waited. The sick man seemed not to sleep but to doze with eyes partly open. It was. nearly night when he breathed deep and the eyes opened wide. As we rose and stood beside him we saw two things: that the gray shade of death was on him, but that he had become sane.

Under his matted black hair his eyes gleamed hollowly first at me, then at Pedro. A light came into his scarred face, and a weak smile grew on his bearded mouth.

“Pedro!” he whispered.

My partner stared down at him.

“Yes, I am Pedro, friend,” he said. “But I do not know you.”

“Luis Pitta,” breathed the other.

“Luis Pitta! Deos meo! Are you Luis?”

The dying man nodded slightly.

“Luis. I die.”

He lay breathing a moment, then went on:

“I am glad—to die and be at peace. Keep away—Jurua.”

“Luis Pitta!” repeated Pedro in a shocked tone.

“Luis—Luis, old comrade, who has treated you so?p

You were a strong man, and now—”

Luis shivered. Fear shot back into his face. As he answered his voice rose to a scream.

“The tailed men! The black men with tails! The demons of the Jurua! O God, save me from—”

He went limp. His jaw dropped. He was dead.

Again I felt cold. From the door, where other men heard that awful cry, came a low mumble of whispers and exclamations. Over the dead man Pedro made the sign of the cross. Then he began making a cigaret, and his hands shook. When it was lighted he began pacing up and down. His face grew hard and his eyes burned. Stopping suddenly, he demanded—

“Who remembers Luis Pitta?”

Nobody answered. The men outside had left their boats and edged in at the door, where they stared at the dead man as if trying to remember him, but none seemed to know him. The name of Luis Pitta meant nothing to me either, so I kept silence.

“We were boys together in Santarem, long before we came into this cursed Javary country,”

said Pedro. “Luis went to work as a seringueiro at the rubber estate of Senhor da Costa on the Branco, while I worked for Coronel Nunes. I have not heard anything of him since two years ago, when a man of the da Costa seringal told me Luis had grown restless and homesick for the open campos and clean sandy beaches of Santarem, and, in the time of high-water, had left for the East. He intended to paddle through flooded lakes and channels until he reached the Jurua, go down that river to Fonteboa on the Solimoes, and there get an Amazon boat which would carry him home.

“He was a strong, merry-hearted, fearless man, was Luis. Now look at him! A broken, tortured, fear-ridden wreck who raved of demons on the Jurua. Por Deos! Demons they are, the things which have done such work on my old comrade.

But, demons or not, they shall pay!”

He choked with rage and struck one fist hard into the other hand.

“Who will go with me?” he roared. “Who will go to the Jurua and fight these fiends? Luis was a seringueiro like ourselves. Who goes to avenge him?”

Still no one spoke. The men glanced at one another, stared at the dead Luis, shuffled their feet, but made no answer.

“Pah! You sicken me!” Pedro growled. “You are not men of the bush, but potbellied town loafers. Get out! The air around you stinks!”

Then up spoke a man shamed by my partner's scorn.

“Pedro, you are mad. From the mouth of the Javary to the mouth of the Jurua is more than four hundred miles, and from there to the upper reaches of that river is at least six hundred. Shall we go a thousand miles to avenge a man we did not know?p

No. And this man Luis said the ones who broke him were devils— demonios with tails! Any of us will fight men, but we will not go far away to attack things spawned in hell. So long as they stay where they are we will let them alone.”

The others grunted their approval of this. After glaring at them a moment, Pedro slowly nodded.

“You have it right,” he admitted. “This is not your business. What is more, I do not want any of you now. If you would travel a thousand miles to get to a place that can be reached by paddling a hundred miles in another direction, you have not brains enough to be worth taking with me. I will go alone.”

He motioned for them to leave the house. They went, shaking their heads and saying he was crazed. Then he turned to me, and found me squinting down the barrel of my rifle.

“I am not asking you to go either,” he told me.

“You do not need to,” I said. “Where is the oil?p

This barrel is rusty again.”

He laughed out suddenly.

“Good old Lourenço! I should not have said that. The oil is there behind that cuya. But first let us bury Luis while it is yet day. We have not much time.”

AFTER some difficulty, we found a place where the dead man could be laid at rest. Then we went to the store, where we found men growling because we had buried Luis so quickly instead of burning candles over him all night and giving the townsmen an excuse to sit up and get drunk, as is usual when someone dies. They hushed, though, when we gave them hard looks and then bought many cartridges.

“Are you indeed going on this wild trip of which men talk?” asked Joaquim, the trader. When we said we were, he added:

“Then talk with my old father, who traveled much in his younger days and knows something of the Jurua. You will find him in the family-room behind that door.”

In the room to which he pointed we found an old man lying in a hammock and smoking a long pipe.

“Greetings, compadre,” said Pedro. “We go to the Jurua. Joaquim says you can tell us something of that river.”

The old man blinked up at us, took out his pipe, and cleared his throat.

“And so I can, my sons,” he answered. “What do you seek on the Jurua?”

“We know not, father, whether we seek men or beasts or demons; they may be all three. We would find things with tails which have tortured my old friend, Luis Pitta. The tailed men of the furua, he called them.”

Si. I have heard of the death of Luis.”

He began puffing again, gazing through the smoke as if seeing something far off. We said no more, but waited. After a time he spoke again.

“The Jurua is bad. It is long and more crooked than a snake, and on its banks live evil things. I would advise you not to go there, but I see that your eyes are hot and your heart burns for your friend, and I am not so old that I have forgotten my own youth. You will go. But I hope, my sons, that you will not find those things you seek, for if you do you may not come back.

“I have not seen those demonios, but I have heard of them. They are far up the river and they are beasts which walk like men. To reach them by going up the river would take many days and you might not live to enter their country, for the Arauas would murder you if they could. These Arauas live eight days' journey from the Solimoes and they are not to be trusted.

“There are also the Catauxias, but these are not so bad. Above these were the Canamaris, but the Canamaris have nearly died out through war with the Arauas. And much farther up are the Culinos and Nawas, of whom I know little, for it takes two moons to reach their region from the Amazon.

Above all these are the Uginas. They are the tailed men.

“Yet you can avoid the tribes lower down the river, and shorten your journey to the Ugina country, by paddling up the Tecuahy and following a furo to the south.”

“That was our plan,” Pedro nodded. “I know there is a furo, but I do not know where it begins.”

“It is in the Red Jungle. Far up the Tecuahy you will find it—a great forest of massaranduba trees.

Soon after you have entered it you will see opening at the left a long enseada. Go into this bay and you will find it narrowing to a furo which will run almost straight for a time and then will become more winding. Where it ends I do not know, but it leads toward the land of the tailed demonios.

Adeos, my sons. Go with God.”

As we strode out Pedro turned and looked back at him. And when we got into our canoe he said:

“There, Lourenço, is the first real man I have seen this day, except yourself. Did you notice how his old eyes followed us when we came away? He has been an adventurer in his day, and even now he hungers to go with us. It is a pity he is so old and feeble.”

Back to our barracão we went, stowed our equipment in our canoe, cleaned our guns, curled up in the hammocks, and slept. As soon as the black night turned to gray day we rolled out again, ate, and started.

DAYS of paddling followed. On our first night out we found ourselves very tired, for the loafing at the town had softened us and shortened our wind, and the next morning we were sluggish and stiff. After that, though, our muscles hardened, and we swung along at a stroke that put the miles steadily behind us. We talked little, for Pedro brooded on the fate of his old friend Luis, so that for a time he was not the lighthearted fellow I had usually found him. He did not seem like himself again until we reached the Red Jungle.

Late on a day of rain we found it. The dense green wall of jungle along the banks of the Tecuahy thinned out. Then the huge reddish trunks of massarandubas began to slide past us, their lofty crowns matting together so thickly that they seemed to make a solid roof. Soon we were in the midst of them. To right and left and up ahead they towered out of the flood waters. Through them we paddled on fast, looking to the left. And before long, as the father of Joaquim had told us, a long enseada opened out toward the southeast.

In among the giant trees we pushed until we reached a hill where we could land. There Pedro took from the canoe his machadinha—the little hatchet which we use in tapping rubber trees—and cut into a big trunk until milk came pouring out. As you know, senhores, the massaranduba is a “cowtree,”

and its milk is good to drink if taken fresh, though it soon thickens to a tough glue if exposed to the air. We were hot and thirsty, and each of us drank a cupful of milk. Then, much refreshed, we made camp between the root-walls of that tree and ate our evening meal.

Though the day had not quite ended when we finished, it was very dark under that thick roof of branches and leaves. But the rain had stopped, and now the low sun suddenly flashed out, shooting its long rays in from the bay and making the wet reddish trunks glow like dull fire.

“This is a solemn place,” I said, gazing at the great columns standing out against the farther gloom. “It seems weird and unnatural. No Indians would ever live in such a place; they would believe it to be the home of the Caypor, that great jungledemon with the flaming red hair.”

He nodded and opened his lips to answer. But no words came. His eyes widened, then narrowed, as if a strange thought had come to him, and he looked sharply at the nearest tree. I looked too, but saw nothing odd.

“What is it?” I asked.

“The women—” he said slowly, “the women of the caboclos make red dye from the bark of the massaranduba.”

“Yes. But what of that?”

Still he studied the tree. Then, for the first time since Luis Pitta came floating down the river, he laughed. But why he laughed he would not tell. So, knowing him well, I asked no more questions.

As suddenly as it had come, the sun left us. At once it grew so black that we could see nothing at all. Tree frogs and crickets burst out into their usual nightly hammering. Their racket made us feel more at home here, and we soon slept In the morning we drank again of the tree-milk, and before we left the hill Pedro cut off chunks of the rough massaranduba bark. These he stowed away in the canoe. Seeing my questioning look, he grinned.

“Perhaps I will make a red dye and paint the tails of the Uginas with it,” he joked. “Who knows?”

“If we find them, I think we will paint them with red from their own veins,” I replied.

His face hardened, and he grunted agreement.

We left the hill, paddled away through the trees to the open water, and went on until we found the furo.

In the next three days we journeyed far and fast.

The furo was narrow, but straight and deep, and there was neither current nor low-hanging bush to hold us back. The Red Jungle still rose around us, and its thick roof prevented the usual small stuff from growing around its trunks. In the dim shadows among those tremendous trees we saw no living thing, and heard no sound except that of frogs and bugs.

Then the big trees ended, and again we met the tangle of undergrowth and hanging vines. Here we had to travel more slowly. In some places we had to use poles instead of paddles. Snakes dropped down around us from branches overhead. Swarms of piums and motucas attacked us and bit until blood dripped from us. At night we heard jaguars roaring near by, and once we had to sleep almost buried under our supplies to protect ourselves from vampires. But we made good speed along the narrow canal in the daytime, and at length we shot out into a clay-colored water which at first we took for the Jurua.

We soon learned, however, that this was not even a river. It had a slight flow, but it was only a winding maze of flood waters in which we wandered for days. And in this wandering we lost the furo. When we found that we were not on any river we sought it again but could not find it. But we did find a small river flowing in from the south, and up that stream we went.

BEFORE we had gone far on this river we were attacked. Shrill yells sounded in the bush, and arrows dropped around our boat. We snatched our rifles, but could see no men—only the heavy arrows rising slowly from the farther shore, curving in air and plunging straight down. Several struck in the canoe.

“Drop as if you were hit,” snapped Pedro. Even as he spoke an arrow fell down my back, scratching my shoulder muscles and catching in my shirt. I slumped forward, thinking that now I was a dead man in truth—for if that arrow was poisoned I could not live long. A second later Pedro gave a groaning cry and flopped backward.

At once the arrows stopped. The yells became screeches of savage joy. We lay quiet, our boat drifting downward, until Pedro gave the word.

Then we popped up and found naked wild men in plain sight on the bushy bank. Before they realized we were alive our bullets were striking them down.

At the belch of our guns they screeched again—

this time from fear. They jumped away, but not before three of them had fallen dead and a fourth had tumbled into the liver. We slammed several more bullets into the jungle, and heard their yelps grow fainter as they fled. Then I yanked that arrow out of my shirt and looked at its point. There was no stain of poison on it, and so the scratch across my shoulders meant nothing.

“Let us get that man,” said Pedro, and I saw that the Indian who had fallen into the water was alive and trying to crawl out. We drove the canoe at him, caught him, and dragged him in. Then we crossed the river again and hung to bushes while we questioned him.

He had been shot in one leg but he paid no attention to the wound. He was more afraid of what we might yet do to him than of what we had done.

His face was dull and stupid but his beady eyes showed his fear. We took care that he should keep on fearing us and tried to make him talk.

It was hard to make him understand. We spoke in Tupi, the lengoa geral of the Amazonian Indians, but he seemed to know only a few words of it. From this we judged that he belonged to one of those small tribes often found far away from the Amazon, who have lived in one place so long they have almost forgotten the language of others.

Yet we learned a few things. We had been attacked because we were strangers, and these people feared all strangers. They would not assail us again, because now they would be too much afraid of our guns. The river we were following came out of a chain of swamps, and at the other end of that chain another stream ran south. This was what we most wanted to know, for it meant that we were on a route that would bring us out on the Jurua. We tried to find out something about the tailed men, but he could not—or would not understand; he seemed to think we spoke of monkeys. So, having learned all we could from him, we let him go.

Back across the river we took him and put him out on the bank, knowing the others would find him there when they came back for their dead. Then we continued up the stream.

Our prisoner had told the truth; perhaps he was too stupid to lie to us. At the head of the river we came into great dismal lagos. After crossing these dead waters we found a flowing current which took us down another small stream to the south. This widened into a good-sized river, and at length it carried us out into a big, slow, dark water which was wider than anything we had seen since leaving Remate de Males. We had reached the Jurua.

“'The Jurua is long and more crooked than a snake, and on its banks live evil things,'“ said Pedro, gazing out across the dreary river. “So spoke the father of Joaquim. In truth, this looks to be an evil water. Now shall we go up or down? We do not know where Luis was held prisoner.”

“Up,” I judged. “We were told that these Uginas live higher up than the other tribes. And Luis, in escaping, would naturally go down the river so that the current would aid him. The place where he was held must be above here.”

So we turned to the right and journeyed up the dark water.

For two days we found nothing. By day we stole along through flooded swamps, keeping near shore, watching the bush and listening. By night we hid our canoe and slung our hammocks at the top of some hill, lighting no fire. We shot no game, made no noise we could avoid, and slept lightly with our guns beside us. But we neither saw nor heard anything except the usual animal life.

Then came storm. The sky had been dull for days, and rain had fallen often, but not hard. Now, as we scouted along a steep bank rising several feet above us, Pedro stopped paddling and looked behind him. I too looked backward, finding that the sky was swiftly growing black. As we held our paddles there came to us a dull roar of wind.

At once we snapped into swift strokes, seeking an inlet. Before we found one the wind had struck us, and the storm-waves were slapping heavily against our boat. But as we sped onward the bank grew lower, and then a small cove opened. We swerved into it. As we tumbled out on shore the storm broke.

Blinding lightning, crashing thunder, and drowning rain came all at once. We dragged the canoe up as high as we could, then squatted beside a tree until the squall should pass. But it did not pass as soon as expected. The wind and the deluge of rain swept onward after a while, but the thunder and lightning continued. So we stayed where we were, our eyes nearly closed to lessen the glare of the light-flashes, and waited.

SUDDENLY I felt Pedro's hand on my wrist. His lips moved, but a roar of thunder swallowed his words. He had come out of his squat and was sitting straight up on his heels, and his eyes were wide-open. Following his stare, I saw, peering at us from behind a tree, a face.

It did not move. It hung there as if it grew from the tree, and the swift lightning lighted it up time after time. It was the face of an animal, but yet the face of a man. Heavy black hair hung down over its low forehead. Little black eyes glimmered at us.

The nose flared so that it seemed a snout. The thick lips were drawn back, and yellow teeth gleamed in a soundless snarl. The whole face was bestial—

such a face as a man might see in a bad dream.

The rapid flicker of lightning suddenly stopped.

With the end of that winking glare the jungle seemed black. Pedro pushed me, and I lost my balance and toppled sidewise. He shoved me again, and then I caught his idea—that we should move away from that spot. We crawled several feet, got behind a tree, and stood up with rifles cocked.

Another flash whitened the bush. We saw the beast-man again. He too had moved, though only a little. He had slipped out until his arms and shoulders were clear of the tree, and he held a bow with the arrow aimed at the spot where we had been.

Though that space now was empty, he loosed the arrow before he realized we were gone. In the same instant he fell with two bullets through his head.

THE lightning vanished, but we jumped through the gloom to his tree. Beside it we found him huddled as he had fallen. While other flashes came and went we squatted there, peering around to learn whether this man had companions. Seeing none, we dragged him out to the canoe.

There we looked him over. We had dropped him face upward, and we saw that he was small, scrawny, filthy, and totally naked. Now Pedro took one arm and flopped the body over. We both recoiled.

Deos meo!” cried my comrade. “It is true!

Look! The tail!”

Yes, senhores, that dead man-animal had a tail.

It was a long, naked, blackish tail like that of a great rat. It was not a thing fastened to him by rods or glue, either, but a real tail that grew from his body. And in spite of the dying screams of Luis Pitta, in spite of what the father of Joaquim had said of the Uginas, the sight of that bare, repulsive thing hanging from the dead man struck us dumb.

We stood staring at it until Pedro stooped, grasped it, and lifted. The body rose from the ground and dangled in air like that of a monkey.

Dropping it, my partner rubbed his hands on his breeches as if to get rid of a snaky feeling.

The thunder died to a dull mutter before we spoke again. Then Pedro said:

“We have sent one of Luis' demonios down the road to hell. But yet this thing is no demon. It is hardly more than a bicho do mato—a beast of the forest. Either of us could kill two of these creatures at once with our bare hands. I wonder that a strong man like Luis let such things overcome him.”

“They must have caught him asleep, or trapped him in some way,” I reasoned. “And any one man, no matter how strong, can be overpowered by many others. You know how it is when we meet a horde of ants—we can crush a score of them at one step, but the others will swarm upon us and bite us horribly. And an ant is a tiny thing compared to this brute.”

“True,” he agreed. “I should not have spoken so of Luis. Let us see how bad the bite of this misbegotten creature would be.”

We went over to the arrow sticking in the ground, pulled it up, and examined it. It was poorly made and had no barb, seeming to be only a straight stick with one end badly notched and the other fire-hardened and scraped to a point. Looking closely at that point, we could find no sign of poison.

“They are so ignorant that they do not know how to make poison,” said my partner. “Yet we must not make the mistake of holding them too lightly. This arrow was shot hard enough to kill one of us. And no doubt they are cunning, like an alligator or any other low beast. Ah, the sun shines again. Let us see where this man came from.”

As he said, the sun had blazed out. By the new light we went back to the tree where the man-beast had lurked, and there we found a few more arrows and his bow. The bow was as poorly made as the arrow we had inspected, but was strong enough to kill. Working away from the tree, we sought a path, but found none. In the mud, however, we spied the tracks of the dead man's feet. This trail we followed back through the bush.

It was not easy to track his course, for the footmarks were few and scattered, and he seemed to have rambled in a winding, purposeless way. But when we lost it we always managed to find it again, and gradually it led us back some distance from the river.

We judged that he had been hunting, for we found spots were he had stopped and stood, making several marks in one place as he shifted his feet. On and on we crept, watching everything, saying nothing, until we came into what seemed a very faint path. There the wet earth was pressed down more firmly, and by looking along its edges we found a few marks of human toes.

ALONG this vague track we went with our heads up, glancing at the trail only now and then to make sure we did not lose it. All at once I stopped and threw up my rifle. Ahead of us a dark shape was swinging down along vine hanging from high branches.

But I did not shoot. The moving thing was only a big monkey. It showed no fear of us, but came down until it could get a good view of us. There it stopped, gripping the vine with all four of its paws and swinging slowly, watched us. We stood still, staring back. After a time it climbed deliberately up again until it reached the tangle of limbs. Then we saw it go jumping and swinging away through the trees.

“He goes toward the place where this path leads,” whispered Pedro.

“A pet monkey, perhaps,” I guessed.

“Perhaps.”

He smiled oddly, then motioned for me to go on.

We advanced for some distance before we saw or heard anything more. Often we stopped to listen; and it was at one of these still moments that we caught a sound ahead—a low mutter like a man's voice. At once we slipped aside into some thick bush and squatted.

Soon we heard a slight rustle of leaves. Then a man came stealing past. Another followed, and another—four in all. They might have been brothers of the one we had killed on the riverbank, for each had the same low, brutal sort of face. I thought I saw tails too, but could not be sure, for their bodies were partly hidden by the undergrowth.

All were armed with bows and arrows, and all were peering ahead as if hunting something.

When the last man had passed I started to creep forward, intending both to look after them and to see whether more were coming. But I stopped where I was. High up over us broke out a noise.

Glancing upward, I saw the big black monkey which had watched us and gone away. He was hanging from a branch, looking down at us and chattering loudly. Low grunts came from the path where the savages had disappeared.

“Do not shoot!” whispered Pedro. “Use your machete!”

Silently we drew our bush-knives. With our legs tensed under us, ready for a spring, we waited. In the path a man reappeared, scowling into the tangle on both sides of the trail. On his heels crept another. Before we saw the other two, the first man spied us.

The instant his eyes met ours we leaped up and at him. My machete chopped him across the neck, and as he reeled I heard the cutting crunch of Pedro's heavy knife killing the savage next to him.

Clutching my man about the body, I swung him around as a shield as I faced the two left alive. It was lucky that I did this, for one of those barbaros had drawn an arrow to its head, and now he shot.

The arrow plunged into the body I held. Throwing the dead man from me, I jumped at my enemy and, before he could put another arrow to the bow, struck him down. Then I turned toward the fourth man.

He was stabbing at Pedro. My comrade jumped back like a cat, and his red machete whirled up sidewise against the other's wrist. A snarling grunt sounded in the throat of the Ugina. His knife flew aside. An instant later his whole body rose from the ground as Pedro drove his machete into his stomach and lifted.

A short, gasping wail burst from him. After Pedro threw him to the ground he writhed a moment, then lay still. We looked all around us, but saw no other man. Except ourselves, the black monkey overhead was the only living thing in that place.

We kicked the dead men over on their faces.

Each had a tail.

“Four more gone to whine to Luis for forgiveness,” said Pedro grimly, as he wiped his machete on a leaf. Then he stood scowling thoughtfully at the one he had just killed.

“He had a knife,” he went on. “I chopped his bow, and then he drew— See! He wears a belt! A black leather belt and a knife-sheath! Where could such an animal get a knife, belt, and sheath? Where is that knife?”

Searching the undergrowth, we found it. It was long, with a sharp point and an odd handle—a handle of white bone, carved to fit the hand, with a knob at the upper end.

“It is as I thought,” said Pedro, nodding. “This is Luis' own knife. I remember it well. It is a North American knife, and was given him by a man from Nova York who stayed for a time at Santarem collecting birds and insects for a great museo. He was very proud of it, for there was not another like it on the Amazon. Poor Luis!”

“These are the fiends who tortured him. This one must be the very man who cut him with his own knife—the one of whom he screamed as he died. I am sorry I did not know it sooner, for then this beast would have died more slowly.”

He glowered down at the dead Ugina. Then he plucked big leaves from the bush, wrapped up the knife, and tied the bundle with bush-cord.

“I do not want the belt and sheath, now that this vile creature has worn them,” he said. “But the knife Luis loved so well shall stay with me. Now let us throw these brutes out of the way.”

We did so. After that Pedro turned back toward the river.

“Come,” he said, “I have a plan which is better than going straight ahead now. And we had best get more cartridges.”

It was not until then that I realized we carried no cartridges except those in the magazines of our rifles. So, picking our guns from the undergrowth where we had hidden them, we returned as we had come. We took no care to conceal our trail, for our feet were bare and made no strange marks in the path.

In the riverbank Pedro stopped short, staring at the ground.

“Lourenço!” he muttered. “We killed that demonio, did we not?”

I looked for the dead man. He was gone.

OUR canoe was there, and nothing in it had been touched. There was no sign that other men had come while we were away. The bush around us was silent and empty. Yet that tailed thing with the top of its head blown off had disappeared.

The sun had gone under clouds again, and the light was dim. Stooping, we scanned the ground where the Ugina had lain. Then we saw signs that something had been dragged from the spot. The signs led toward the water. In the mud at the edge of the water was the trail of a big alligator.

“Ah, that is more natural,” Pedro said in a relieved tone. “I was almost ready to believe that the man-devil had stuffed his brains back into his head and walked off. I think I am losing my own brains. Let us go somewhere else for the night. It is too late to do anything more today.”

So we left the inlet, paddled back downstream, crossed to the other side of the river, and camped there.

As you may suppose, we argued that night about the tailed men. We agreed that they were not much more than animals, but the question was how they got tails. They might be monkeys turning into men, or they might be men becoming monkeys; but still they did not seem monkey-like, except that they were hairy and had the tails and faces of brutes.

Their feet were the big flat feet of men, not monkey paws; and their tails seemed useless. Finally Pedro said:

“The things of which we are sure are that they have tails and that they are vile and cruel. They have no human hearts. And my idea about them is that they are men, but so low that they breed with monkeys.

“You remember the barbaros who attacked us before we passed through the swamps, and what a stupid fellow that one was whom we caught. He was not much higher than these Uginas, though he had no tail. You know how some of these small tribes who live in one place breed among themselves until their brains become hardly better than those of animals. They sink lower and lower until they are beasts, living only to eat and sleep and do vicious things. And you remember that black monkey we met, which looked at us and then brought those four men to seek us. He was a coaita, the tallest and most knowing monkey in our jungles—you have seen coaitas kept as pets along the Solimoes. Why, then, should a tribe so low as these Uginas not breed with coaitas? And why should not that breeding give them tails?”

“Who knows where men came from in the first place? Who knows whether the first men on earth did not have tails? If they did, would it be strange that such people as these, by mixing with monkeys, should grow, them again? Lourenço, I think this is the true reason why these tailed men exist.

“I believe that coaita who spied on us was not only a pet, but a blood-brother—or perhaps a father—to some of those creatures who came to hunt us! And I believe that when we enter their town—if they have a town—we shall find other coaitas there.”

“You may have it right,” I admitted. “Now that I think of it, I remember something I once heard said by a college professor from North America—

Senhor Grayson, who stayed at the coronel's place for a time to study jungle creatures, and whom we named the Jabiru because he looked so much like that bird.

“He said there had been a time, far back in the early days, when men lived in trees like monkeys.

He did not say they had tails, or even that men and monkeys ever were the same. But it they lived like monkeys perhaps they were like monkeys in other ways—I do not know any reason why they should not be.

“But the question now is not so much where these men got their tails as what we shall do to them tomorrow. What is your plan?”

“My plan now is to sleep,” he said. And sleep he did, so that I could do nothing but wonder a while and then sleep also.

In the morning Pedro made the first fire we had lighted since reaching the Jurua. The place where we had slept was up a narrow creek concealed by thick bush, and we could find no sign of human life near it. My partner set water to heat in a cookingvessel, broke up the massaranduba bark he had cut in the Red Jungle, and put that also into the pot.

Then, leaving me to watch the fire, he went away.

He was gone for some time. When he returned he brought an armful of light-colored strips of thin bark and a number of small springy withes. While I kept the water boiling he untied the knife of Luis, which was more thin of blade than his machete, and with this he shredded the light bark into fibers hardly bigger than hairs.

At this work he spent most of the forenoon.

When it was done we pulled the boiled chunks of massaranduba bark from the pot. The water in that vessel now had become a red dye. Into this we stuffed the hairy fibers, leaving them in until they became red, then taking them out and putting in others, until at last all were dyed.

All this time I had asked no questions, for Pedro had plagued me many times in the past when I sought reasons for what he did, and had always found that behind his actions was an idea. But now I could no longer keep still.

“If it is not a great secret,” I said, “may I ask what you are making?”

“Hair,” he grinned. “Red hair. Is it not beautiful?”

“It is red enough, if anyone loves red hair. But what has this to do with killed tailed men?”

“I am surprised that you have not guessed it,” he mocked. “We shall make ourselves so handsome that when the Uginas see us they will drop dead from admiration.”

I SAID no more. When he took some spare clothing and rubber-covered pack-sheets from the canoe, however, and began to shape them over withes bent and tied into the shape of a large head, I caught his idea. Back came the memory of my idle remark in the Red Jungle about that demon of the Indians—the Caypor. Now I saw why Pedro had brought along the red bark and why he made red hair. At once I went to work helping him.

Over the frameworks of springy branches we built up trunks, shoulders, and heads, weaving bush-cord through holes in the cloth and rubber and tying them into the right shape. Around the great heads we bound that red hair which we had just made. On the dark rubber we made awful faces, using bits of fungus, daubs of clay and streaks of red dye, and cutting slits for mouths, into which we fastened bits of wood like jagged yellow teeth.

When we lifted the things and set them on our shoulders we became the most horrible monsters I have ever seen, except in nightmares.

We seemed misshapen giants whose arms grew from our waists, whose hair had been dyed in blood, and whose huge red-smeared mouths were stretching open ready to tear men into mangled corpses. Even a civilized man would have started with fear at first sight of us. And we believed that such low-brained creatures as the tailed Uginas would take us for real and deadly fiends.

Making sure that the frameworks fitted well over our shoulders and that the holes cut for our eyes would not slip aside and leave us blinded, we took them off again and emptied our canoe. After hiding our equipment where nothing could disturb it while we were away, we ate and smoked.

“Our arms are stained red from that dye,” I said.

“They will be more red before we return,” Pedro answered. And he spoke truth.

No rain was falling, but the light was poor. This suited us well. Carrying with us only those weird false bodies, full cartridge-belts, and our weapons, we slipped the canoe down the creek to the river, crossed over, and stole along up the northern bank until we reached that little inlet where we had shot the first Ugina. A short scouting trip proved that this time no enemy lurked there. So we bound on our terrible masks, looked again at our rifles to make sure they were full, and took the trail toward the lair of the tailed men.

We soon found that, though our towering masks were not heavy, they were awkward and uncomfortable. Before long we were dripping with sweat, and we had to walk in a stooping posture and step carefully to keep our false heads from butting against low branches.

But we knew that unless the Uginas lived in different fashion from all other tribes their village would be in a cleared space, and there we could stand erect. We knew, too, that they probably would be dozing now, for it was midday and the muggy air was sweltering hot. Our plan of attack was very simple—to walk in among them and start shouting.

At the place where we had hidden yesterday and fought the four men led by the monkey, we found signs that other men had been there since we left.

The bush was beaten aside and broken, and fresh footmarks showed in spots where the soil was soft.

Though we stayed in the path, we knew the bodies which we had thrown aside had been found and taken away.

“We had best go slowly,” I advised, “or we may fall into a trap. They must be hunting us, now that they have found those bodies.”

But he snorted.

“You forget that we are demons,” he objected.

“Who ever heard of a demon slinking along cautiously? We must go in with a roar. If a few lurk in ambush, they will run when they see us. And I do not believe they are waiting for us—they have no reason to expect us to return, and it is so hot now that they are probably sleeping in their dens.”

He was not wrong. We saw no man until we opened our fight. Abruptly the jungle ended and we emerged into a clearing. Trees grew there, but they were few and large and scattered, and the smaller growth had been hacked or burned away. We saw no houses of any kind. Surprised by this, we halted.

Then out rang a scream, so near us that we jumped. From the base of a huge tree close at hand sprang a naked figure which ran shrieking down the open space. We threw up our rifles, but did not shoot; for the long hair flying out behind that form showed it was a woman. Later I remembered that she was not a tailed creature. Now we glanced at the place whence she had jumped, and saw that it was a tangle of sticks with a door-like hole in it.

Out through that hole scrambled two other figures. One was a big coaita, which looked at us and then fled up into the tree. The other was a squat, scared-looking beast-man who rose to his knees and threw a spear at us. Pedro's rifle barked, and the Ugina flopped on his face.

Then we saw the others. From the butts of those big trees they came popping out like ants. The woman was still running, still screaming, and as they saw us they too began to jabber and yell. In our deepest tones we roared an answer. Then, our guns spitting death, we advanced on them.

For a moment it seemed that they would run for the jungle. I hoped they would stand and fight, for I would dislike to shoot even such beasts as these in the back. But I need not have troubled about that.

They ran only to get weapons. If they had known we were merely men they probably would have swarmed on us. As it was, they bunched around their trees and shot arrows and threw small spears, fighting as a beast fights—because he is too much scared to do anything else.

WE STOPPED before we came too close, bellowing as fiendishly as we could and moving from side to side while we reloaded our guns.

Arrows fell around us, some striking fire-charred stumps and bouncing off, some slithering through the grass, some chunking down into pools of water.

Many of these might have hit us if we had stood still, but by our irregular movements to the side we evaded most of them. Besides, the Uginas were shooting and throwing with the hurried aim of fear, and their spears fell short and their arrows flew high. No doubt those who took any aim at all shot for those terrifying false heads of ours. At any rate, the few missiles which hit us went into the hollow framework of our masks, leaving our own heads and bodies untouched.

Shooting swiftly but carefully, we poured another magazineful of lead into a knot of snarling savages around the butt of the nearest tree. Some yelped as they fell. Others dropped silently. One or two squirmed on the ground, then lay still. The note of terror in the yells of those still standing became sharper. And when, our guns once more emptied, we began advancing toward them as we reloaded, panic swept them into howling flight.

A couple of dropping arrows had caught in my shirt and stuck there, scraping my skin but doing no harm. From our false heads and shoulders several other arrows protruded. And the Uginas, seeing this and finding that we showed no signs of hurt, must have believed it was impossible to kill or even wound us. Yelling hoarsely, they turned and ran for the bush.

But it was only the first tree that was deserted.

From the other butts more Uginas ran out and joined those seeking cover, but these seemed to be mostly women and children—or, perhaps, monkeys. The men stayed, bunching together and sending a few more arrows at us. One of these, falling slat-wise, pierced my left foot.

I was glad then that those arrows had no barbs, for it was easy to pull out that one and throw it aside. I tried to do this carelessly, as if it did not hurt. But I must have shown some sign of pain— perhaps I had jumped when the shaft struck me— for the shouts grew louder and arrows came more thickly again. We paid no attention to these, moving on as if we scorned them until we came into the shelter of the big abandoned tree.

There, partly covered by the huge trunk, we shot steadily into the knots of savages around the other trees. We divided these between us, Pedro taking those to the left while I attacked those to the right.

And now we did not concentrate on one spot alone, but shifted our fire from butt to butt, striking men down here and there so rapidly that it must have seemed we were killing the whole tribe at once. Yet the Uginas fought on, though their fight seemed to be weakening and their noise died down.

If they had known enough to keep quiet we might have died suddenly. Nothing had threatened our backs, and our enemies were in front, so that we never glanced behind. But now new cries began to come from the line of trees, and we saw the beast-men looking beyond us. Wheeling, we found several stealthy forms crawling up on us among the stumps.

They were on hands and knees, partly hidden by stumps and grass, but we could see their heads well enough. Into two of those heads I sent bullets. Then my hammer snapped down without an explosion.

Dropping the empty gun, I yanked my machete and jumped at the rest of them.

But they did not wait. Their only weapons were short spears, and as we bore down on them they rose, threw their weapons, screeched, and ran for their lives. One just ahead of me fell over a stump, and another tripped over his outflung arms. I got both of them with slashing blows across the back of the neck. Pedro, too, caught one of the fleeing creatures and killed him, and later I found that he had shot another as he charged at them. Only two were left, and they went bounding away, howling fearfully.

WE TURNED back, sweeping the line of trees with our eyes to see whether other Uginas meant to rush us. But none did. Instead, more were sneaking for the bush.

“My cartridges are running low,” said Pedro, as we reloaded. “Let us advance on them before we use up all our bullets.”

With our deepest yells we left our tree and advanced at a trot. The beast-men could stand no longer. A few sprang out from each butt and fled.

The rest wavered an instant and followed. Halting, we shot fast and straight, downing several more of them. Then the clearing was empty.

“Now that they have quit, they will keep on running until they think themselves safe,” said Pedro. “To help them on their way I will scream a little.”

And scream he did, horrible wailing screams that sounded as if some wounded man were being torn apart and devoured by those yellow teeth in our false faces. They made me cold, even though I knew who made them and why. And the fearridden fugitives must have fled deep into the bush on hearing them, for we saw none of them again.

Roaring and screaming by turns, we passed along the line of big trees, seeking any living thing that might remain. We found only two. In the doorway of one of the miserable hovels built between the root-buttresses we spied a wounded savage. As we stepped toward him he gave one snarl of terror, lifted a spear, and plunged it into his own heart. In another hut we found a sick coaita monkey which squatted and watched us without moving. Nothing else was under those trees except bodies.

Some of the dead men, we noticed, had no tails.

But, tailed or tailless, all had the same brute faces.

We paid little attention to them, except to make sure they were dead and could not kill us from behind. When we reached the end of the open space we stopped yelling and stood looking at each other.

Pedro's mask was pierced in several places, and one arrow jutted out only a few inches from his eyes.

“Are you hit?” I asked.

“No. This arrow scraped my head and may have torn my scalp, but it is nothing. Your foot wound is much worse than that. Let us finish our work and go.”

Out from a pocket he drew a small package carefully wrapped in rubber, and from this he produced matches. We pulled a few dry sticks from inside the stinking hut nearest us and set fire to them. Soon we had all the shelters around that tree going up in smoke. Then we passed back as we had come, firing the filthy hovels until each tree was ringed with flame.

After leaving the tree where we had made most of our fight, we stopped a moment to look down at the bodies of those whom we had shot while they were creeping up on us from behind. They lay face down, and they were tailless and had long hair.

Nossa Senhora!” exclaimed Pedro. “They are women!”

I shoved one over with my foot. It was true. The other two whom we had shot were women also.

Their faces were as vile and their bodies as scraggy as those of the men, but women they were.

Wondering whether the others also had been females, we went on and looked at the three whom we had killed with our machetes. We found them to be men.

“That explains it,” nodded Pedro. “I wondered how they dared to come so near us. The women were the leaders. Perhaps we had killed their mates.

The men had sense enough to fear us, but a woman crazed with fury loses all fear and all sense. I am glad we did not fall alive into their hands.”

Remembering the scarred body of Luis Pitta and looking into the faces of those she-devils, I grunted agreement.

We left them there and went our way. At the edge of the bush, where the faint trail began, we turned and looked back. The dismal clearing, with its blackened stumps and its few gaunt trees, now was blue with low-crawling clouds of smoke through which glared the belts of flame eating up the habitations of the bichos do mata. Around those fires, we knew, lay the bullet-torn corpses of many tailed creatures who never again would torture a prisoner. The jungle around us was empty and silent, and the only sound was the sullen crackle of the fires. We had come as demons to fight demons, and we left behind us a death-strewn hell. Our work was done.

Back along the vague path we passed to the river. There we cut off our monstrous disguises, pitched them into the canoe, and breathed deep of the damp air.

“Luis, old comrade, we have done our best for you,” Pedro said soberly. “So far as two men could destroy these fiends we have destroyed them; and into the others we have put fear that will abide. Now sleep in peace, Luis meo.”

And we got into the canoe and paddled away toward the creek where our supplies were hidden.


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