"What does the man say?" he asked Barunda."Has he seen anything of the prahu bearing the girl?""Yes," replied the Dyak."He says that two hours ago such a war prahu passed on its way up river--he saw the white girl plainly.Also he knows whither they are bound, and how, by crossing through the jungle on foot, you may intercept them at their next stop."Bulan, suspecting no treachery, was all anxiety to be off at once.Barunda suggested that in case of some possible emergency causing the quarry to return down the river it would be well to have a force remain at the long-house to intercept them.He volunteered to undertake the command of this party.Ninaka, he said, would furnish guides to escort Bulan and his men through the jungle to the point at which they might expect to find Muda Saffir.
And so, with the girl he sought lying within fifty feet of him, Bulan started off through the jungle with two of Ninaka's Dyaks as guides--guides who had been well instructed by their panglima as to their duties.
Twisting and turning through the dense maze of underbrush and close-growing, lofty trees the little party of eight plunged farther and farther into the bewildering labyrinth.
For hours the tiresome march was continued, until at last the guides halted, apparently to consult each other as to the proper direction.By signs they made known to Bulan that they did not agree upon the right course to pursue from there on, and that they had decided that it would be best for each to advance a little way in the direction he thought the right one while Bulan and his five creatures remained where they were.
"We will go but a little way," said the spokesman, "and then we shall return and lead you in the proper direction."Bulan saw no harm in this, and without a shade of suspicion sat down upon a fallen tree and watched his two guides disappear into the jungle in opposite directions.Once out of sight of the white man the two turned back and met a short distance in the rear of the party they had deserted--in another moment they were headed for the long-house from which they had started.
It was fully an hour thereafter that doubts began to enter Bulan's head, and as the day dragged on he came to realize that he and his weird pack were alone and lost in the heart of a strange and tangled web of tropical jungle.
No sooner had Bulan and his party disappeared in the jungle than Barunda and Ninaka made haste to embark with the chest and the girl and push rapidly on up the river toward the wild and inaccessible regions of the interior.Virginia Maxon's strong hope of succor had been gradually waning as no sign of the rescue party appeared as the day wore on.Somewhere behind her upon the broad river she was sure a long, narrow native prahu was being urged forward in pursuit, and that in command of it was the young giant who was now never for a moment absent from her thoughts.
For hours she strained her eyes over the stern of the craft that was bearing her deeper and deeper into the wild heart of fierce Borneo.On either shore they occasionally passed a native long-house, and the girl could not help but wonder at the quiet and peace which reigned over these little settlements.It was as though they were passing along a beaten highway in the center of a civilized community; and yet she knew that the men who lolled upon the verandahs, puffing indolently upon their cigarettes or chewing betel nut, were all head hunters, and that along the verandah rafters above them hung the grisly trophies of their prowess.
Yet as she glanced from them to her new captors she could not but feel that she would prefer captivity in one of the settlements they were passing--there at least she might find an opportunity to communicate with her father, or be discovered by the rescue party as it came up the river.The idea grew upon her as the day advanced until she spent the time in watching furtively for some means of escape should they but touch the shore momentarily; and though they halted twice her captors were too watchful to permit her the slightest opportunity for putting her plan into action.
Barunda and Ninaka urged their men on, with brief rests, all day, nor did they halt even after night had closed down upon the river.On, on the swift prahu sped up the winding channel which had now dwindled to a narrow stream, at intervals rushing strongly between rocky walls with a current that tested the strength of the strong, brown paddlers.
Long-houses had become more and more infrequent until for some time now no sign of human habitation had been visible.The jungle undergrowth was scantier and the spaces between the boles of the forest trees more open.
Virginia Maxon was almost frantic with despair as the utter helplessness of her position grew upon her.
Each stroke of those slender paddles was driving her farther and farther from friends, or the possibility of rescue.
Night had fallen, dark and impenetrable, and with it had come the haunting fears that creep in when the sun has deserted his guardian post.
Edgar Rice Burroughs