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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBoy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter XII. LOST IN THE JUNGLE AT NIGHT
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Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter XII. LOST IN THE JUNGLE AT NIGHT Post by :rona1 Category :Long Stories Author :G. Harvey Ralphson Date :April 2012 Read :1959

Click below to download : Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter XII. LOST IN THE JUNGLE AT NIGHT (Format : PDF)

Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter XII. LOST IN THE JUNGLE AT NIGHT

CHAPTER XII. LOST IN THE JUNGLE AT NIGHT

"Just look at it!"

The lieutenant, after many warnings against getting in the way, and against getting lost in the jungle, had just left Peter and Jimmie, and the boys stood at the verge of the great Culebra cut, taking in the wonder and the force of the marvelous scene.

Night and day, under the great white lights, the work went forward, cutting a way for the commerce of the world. Night and day the human ants bored into the earth. Continuously the blasting and scraping, the puffing and the roaring, went on. Always the great steam shovels were biting into the soil and the rock.

"That doesn't look like the deep blue sea down there, does it?" Peter went on, "yet the largest vessels in the world will be sailing over here in four years, sailing through this cut, and over a forest beyond the rise there. It looks big, doesn't it? And it sounds big, too."

From where the boys stood there seemed to be a hopeless confusion of men and machines, but they knew that back of all the hurry, and bustle, and noise, was a great machine, a wonderful system, born in a human brain and reaching its lines out to the smallest detail.

"When you sit on a fire-escape balcony, or in a park," Jimmie said, his mind going back to the New York lounging places he knew best, "and read about how many tons of earth have been removed during the week, you don't sense it, do you? You've got to come down here and catch Uncle Sam at his job."

While the boys talked of the marvelous thing before them a stranger of quiet mien stood watching them from an elevation a few yards away. He was a man of middle age, with brilliant black eyes, long, like those of an Oriental, and a figure almost boyish in its proportions. He was neatly dressed in a dark suit of some soft, expensive material, his linen was spotless, and a diamond of great value and brilliancy glimmered in his pure white tie.

He stood watching the boys for a moment listening to their talk, and then approached them, softly, deferentially, yet with an air of frankness.

"It is a wonderful sight," he said, as he came to the edge of the cut where the lads stood. "In all the world's life there has never been anything like it."

The boys turned and looked the man over modestly, yet with sharp eyes. It is not to be wondered at, after their experiences there, that they were suspicious of all strangers. They both at first rather liked the looks of the man.

"It is worth coming a long way to see," Peter observed.

"Yes," was the reply, "it is wonderful, even to those who are small cogs in the great machine, and so it must seem almost supernatural in its showing of strength to those who look upon it for the first time."

"You belong on the works?" asked Jimmie, gazing at the man with a sort of awe, as one might look at a man of mighty deeds.

"Yes, I have my part in the work," was the reply, "though it is only a modest part. I am in the office of the engineer, and frequently come out at night to note the progress of the big cut."

"It must make a man feel a mile high, to be part of a thing like this," Jimmie said, sweeping a hand over the scene. "It makes little old New York look like thirty cents," he added, with a laugh.

"The work," the stranger said, in a pleasant tone, which gave no indication of foreign birth "has progressed beyond the expectations of the most enthusiastic advocate of the canal. When we came here we found about seven miles of waterway bored into the side of the Isthmus, reaching, well, about up to the rising slope of Gatun. Beyond this there were scratches in the soil for about forty miles. There was a notch nicked in the hills of Culebra--just a nick bearing no resemblance to what you see before you at this time."

"That was over there where the hills rise up like men watching the lights and listening to the noise?" asked Jimmie, his imagination thoroughly stirred by the scene.

"Yes, over there. It would have taken the Frenchmen a century to dig down to the level where those shovels are working, where those tracks lie. I'm afraid it took the men they brought here most of the time to bury the dead. But, after all, they never got in touch with the really big thing."

"I guess that was the Chagres river," Peter said; "I've read something about that, about the trouble it makes."

"Yes, that was the river," the stranger went on, by this time pretty deep in the confidence and admiration of the boys. "They found the Chagres having everything its own way on the uplands, over to the north, there. It ambled along like a perfect lady in spots, then it twisted its water into whirling ropes which pulled at the banks and toppled cliffs into the current."

"Freshets?" asked Jimmie.

"Exactly. When the engineers came they found something worth while. They found a dismal, soggy-looking ditch which could do things in a single night. They found crumbling and shaling cliffs which showed the bite of the waters. Time and again they had to do their work all over again. Then they decided to take the Chagres by the neck and choke it into subjection."

"I'd like to see some one choke a river," Jimmie laughed. "You try to choke a river and you'll find that the harder you clutch it the more trouble it will make you."

"But they not only choked the Chagres," the stranger said, with a captivating smile which went far toward giving him the complete confidence of the boys, "they put it in chains. If you look on a detail map of the Isthmus, you will see a white band stretching from Limon Bay to La Boca, just below the hill of Ancon. That is the line of the canal. Then, across this white band, you will see a crooked line, a turning and twisting line. That is the river, which seems to change its mind about general direction every few minutes. The engineers found this river in the habit of getting up in the night and tearing their work in pieces."

"Why didn't they cut a straight channel for it?" asked Jimmie.

"That was tried, but finally the engineers decided to stop trying to make the river behave itself, as a river, and turned their attention to squelching it. They are going to turn it into a lake--the Lake of Gatun."

"I've heard something about that," Jimmie said. "Go on and tell us more about it."

The stranger smiled pleasantly, but there was a sudden quickening of the flame in his brilliant eyes which the boys did not notice.

"The upland portion of the Isthmus, the plateau, as it would be called in Mexico, is fairly level from Gatun to the Culebra hills. It might, in fact, be called a shallow basin, with hills shutting it in. Now do you see what the Gatun dam is for?"

"Sure. To flood that basin and turn the Chagres into a lake," cried Jimmie.

"That is just what will be done. The Panama canal will be a lake most of the way. The locks will float the vessels up to the lake and down to the canal again. The hills, and forests, and farms of the basin will be under water."

"And the mines," Jimmie said, thinking of the talk he had had with Peter concerning the emerald mines. "The lake will flood them, too."

"There are no mines there any more," the stranger said, lightly, but there was a quality in his voice which almost asked a question instead of making a statement of fact.

"I've been wondering if there wasn't mines down there," Jimmie added, in a moment.

"What kind of mines?" asked the stranger.

Jimmie was about to say "Emerald mines," but Peter's anxious face warned him to check the words on his lips.

"Oh, I've heard of all kinds of mines about there," he said, instead.

"The mines are farther south," said the stranger. "Are you boys with a party?" he added, in a moment. "If not, I would like to have you spend the night as my guests."

"We've got a camp back here," Peter said, "and the others will be expecting us."

"I see," said the other. "You are the boys who are here in search of specimens. I recall something Lieutenant Gordon said about you. But you are a long way from the cottage in the jungle near Gatun."

"When did you see Lieutenant Gordon last?" asked Peter, suspiciously.

"I met him something over half an hour ago," was the reply, "on his way back to the Tivoli at Ancon. You came here in his machine?"

"Yes," was the reply.

"Well, I'm going to Gatun to-night, and you may ride with me."

The stranger turned away, as if to get his motor car, and Peter nudged Jimmie in the ribs with his elbow.

"Now we've done it," he whispered.

"Done what?"

"Got a man after us."

"Do you think he is one of the men we came here to look up?" asked Jimmie. "I've been thinking he looks like a Jap. Perhaps he's one of the men at the bottom of that bomb business. Well, we don't have to go with him."

"I'd like to see where he would take us," Peter whispered.

"Not for your uncle," Jimmie replied. "It is me for the jungle. This thing is gettin' worse 'n' a Bowery drama. The villain comes on in every scene here. Say! Suppose we take a run into the woods before he gets back?"

"I'm not in love with the jungle at night," Peter said. "Besides, I'd like to know what this Jap has in mind."

The chug-chug of the stranger's motor was now heard, and, without waiting for further discussion, the boys ducked away into the jungle, which crowded close on the cut at this point.

They heard the car stop at the point where they had been standing, and heard a low exclamation of impatience, indicative of disappointment, from the lips of the driver, and then crept farther into the tangle of vines.

Finally Peter stopped and faced toward Gatun.

"We'd better be working toward home," he said. "This thicket is no place for a civilized human being at night."

Although there was a moon, and the sky showed great constellations with which the boys were unfamiliar, the jungle was dark and creepy. Keeping the lights from the workings on their left, the boys pushed their way through the undergrowth for some distance without resting, and then paused in a little glade and listened.

"Gee," cried Jimmie, after standing at attention for a moment, "there's some one following us. We'd better dig in a little deeper."

"It may be a wild animal," said Peter, who, while ready to face whatsoever peril might come in the company of the man they were running away from, was in mortal terror of the jungle.

"There are no man-eaters here," Jimmie replied, unwinding a snake-like creeper from his neck and pushing on.

"I can feel snakes crawling up my legs now," complained Peter, with a shiver.

The noise in the rear came on about as fast as they could move, and at last Jimmie sat down on a fallen tree.

"He can hear us," he said. "We might as well be hiding with a brass band."

"Then we'll keep quiet until he passes," Peter trembled out. "I'm afraid to go plunging through here in the dark, anyway."

Making as little noise as possible, the boys crept into a particularly dense thicket and crouched down. Almost as soon as they were at rest the noise behind ceased. In five minutes it began again, but the sounds grew fainter and fainter and finally died out.

"He was followin' us all right," Jimmie said. "Now we'll dig in a little deeper, so as not to come out anywhere near him, and then go back to camp."

They walked, or crept, rather, until they were tired out and then looked about.

There were giant ceiba trees, with trunks as smooth as if they had been polished by human hands, tremendous cotton-trees, their branches bowed down with air plants, palms, to which clung clusters of wild nuts, thick, bulbous trees, taller trees with buttressed roots, as if Nature knew the strain that was to be placed upon them and braced them up accordingly, trees with bark like mirrors, and trees with six-inch spike growing from the bark.

And through this thicket of trees ran creepers resembling pythons, smaller vines which tore at the boughs of the trees, and a mass of running things on the ground which caught the foot and seemed to crawl up toward the throat. By daylight it would have been weird and beautiful. At night it was uncanny and fearsome.

"We ought to be in sight of the lights by this time," Peter said, after they had crept on and rested again and again.

"Yes," said Jimmie, "but we ain't. We're lost in the jungle, if you want to know."

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