CHAPTER IX. AMONG THE CANNIBAL MANGEROMAS

I have a vague recollection of hearing the barking of dogs, of changing my crawling direction to head for the sound, and then, suddenly, seeing in front of me a sight which had the same effect as a rescuing steamer on the shipwrecked.

To my confused vision it seemed that I saw many men and women and children, and a large, round house; I saw parrots fly across the open space in brilliant, flashing plumage and heard their shrill screaming. I cried aloud and fell forward when a little curly-haired dog jumped up and commenced licking my face, and then I knew no more.

When I came to I was lying in a comfortable hammock in a large, dark room. I heard the murmur of many voices and presently a man came over and looked at me. I did not understand where I was, but thought that I, finally, had gone mad. I fell asleep again. The next time I woke up I saw an old woman leaning over me and holding in her hand a gourd containing some chicken-broth which I swallowed slowly, not feeling the cravings of hunger, in fact not knowing whether I was dead or alive. The old woman had a peculiar piece of wood through her lip and looked very unreal to me, and I soon fell asleep again.

On the fifth day, so I learned later, I began to feel my senses return, my fever commenced to abate, and I was able to grasp the fact that I had crawled into the maloca, or communal village, of the Mangeromas. I was as weak as a kitten, and, indeed, it has been a marvel to me ever since that I succeeded at all in coming out of the Shadow. The savages, by tender care, with strengthening drinks prepared in their own primitive method, wrought the miracle, and returned to life a man who was as near death as any one could be, and not complete the transition. They fed me at regular intervals, thus checking my sickness, and when I could make out their meaning, I understood that I could stay with them as long as I desired.

Luckily I had kept my spectacles on my nose (they were the kind that fasten back of the ears) during the previous hardships, and I found these sticking in their position when I awoke. My khaki coat was on the ground under my hammock, and the first thing was to ascertain if the precious contents of its large pockets had been disturbed, but I found everything safe. The exposed plates were there in their closed boxes, the gold dust was also there and mocked me with its yellow glare, and my hypodermic outfit was intact and was used without delay, much to the astonishment of some of the men, standing around my hammock.

When my head was clear and strong enough to raise, I turned and began my first visual exploration of my immediate surroundings. The big room I found to be a colossal house, forty feet high and one hundred and fifty feet in diameter, thatched with palm-leaves and with sides formed of the stems of the pachiuba tree. It was the communal residence of this entire tribe, consisting, as I learned later, of two hundred and fifty-eight souls. A single door and a circular opening in the roof were the only apertures of this enormous structure. The door was very low, not more than four feet, so that it was necessary to creep on one's knees to enter the place, and this opening was closed at night, that is to say, about six o'clock, by a sliding door which fitted so snugly that I never noticed any mosquitoes or piums in the dark, cool room.

The next day I could get out of my hammock, though I could not stand or walk without the aid of two women, who took me over to a man I later found to be the chief of the tribe. He was well-fed, and by his elaborate dress was distinguished from the rest of the men. He had a very pleasant, good-natured smile, and almost constantly displayed a row of white, sharp-filed teeth. This smile gave me some confidence, but I very well knew that I was now living among cannibal Indians, whose reputation in this part of the Amazon is anything but flattering. I prepared for the new ordeal without any special fear - my feelings seemed by this time to have been pretty well exhausted and any appreciation of actual danger was considerably reduced as a result of the gamut of the terrors which I had run.

I addressed the Chief in the Portuguese language, which I had learned during my stay at Floresta headquarters, and also in Spanish but he only shook his head; all my efforts were useless. He let me know in a friendly manner that my hammock was to be my resting-place and that I would not be molested. His tribe was one that occupied an almost unknown region and had no connection with white men or Brazilians or people near the river. I tried in the course of the mimical conversation to make him understand that, with six companions from a big Chief's maloca (meaning Coronel da Silva and the Floresta headquarters), I had penetrated into the woods near this mighty Chief's maloca, - here I pointed at the Chief - that the men had died from fever and I was left alone and that luckily, I had found my way to the free men of the forest (here I made a sweeping movement with my hands). He nodded and the audience was over. I was led back to my hammock to dream and eat, and dream again.