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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBoy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter XIV. THE KILL IN THE JUNGLE
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Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter XIV. THE KILL IN THE JUNGLE Post by :jstar Category :Long Stories Author :G. Harvey Ralphson Date :April 2012 Read :780

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Boy Scouts In The Canal Zone - Chapter XIV. THE KILL IN THE JUNGLE


It was growing darker every minute in the jungle, for there were now fleecy clouds in the sky, and the moon was not always in sight. Following Jimmie's statement that they were lost, the boys stood stock still in a dense thicket and tried once more to get their bearings.

"We've got something figured out wrong," Peter said.

"I don't see how we have," Jimmie insisted. "See here! That is the moon up there? What?"

"Looks like it."

"Then it's got lost," Jimmie continued. "Ever stand behind the scenes in a theatre and hold a moon up on a stick?"

"Never did."

"Well, I did, on the Bowery, once, and I got so interested in what was goin' on in front that the moon set in the east. That's what's the matter with this moon. Some--"

"There ain't no supe holding up this moon on a stick."

"Then they've moved the Panama canal," insisted Jimmie. "If they hadn't, we would have come to the cut a long time ago. That moon is supposed to be in the south. It ought to be."

"Perhaps a little west of south."

"Well, we crossed over the ditch down here, didn't we, and struck into the jungle from the west side of the Culebra cut?"

"Of course we did."

"Then if we keep the moon in the south, on our right, we'll come back to the cut?"

"Sure. Anyway, we ought to."

"Well, Old Top, we've been walkin' for the last two hours with the moon on our right, and we haven't got anywhere, have we? You don't see no lights ahead of us, do you?"

There were no signs of the big cut. The great lights which blazed over the workings were not to be seen. The noises of the digging, the dynamiting, the pounding of the steam shovels, the nervous tooting of the dirt trains, might have been a thousand miles away.

"You've got to show me," Peter said, after studying over the matter for a moment. "That moon isn't on no stick on a Bowery stage. It is there in the south, where it belongs, and if we continue to keep it on our right we'll come to the canal in time. We are farther away than we thought for."

They struggled on through the jungle for another half hour, and then stopped while Jimmie looked reproachfully at the moon.

"I'd like to know what kind of a country this is, anyway," he grumbled. "I never saw the moon get off on a tear before."

"Except when you had it on the end of a stick," said Peter, with a noise which was intended for a laugh, but which sounded more like a sigh of disgust.

"Well, we've got to stay here until morning," Jimmie said, presently, "and I'm so hungry that I could eat a boa constrictor right now."

"Quit!" cried Peter. "Don't talk about snakes, or you'll bring them down on us."

"That was coarse, wasn't it?" observed Jimmie. "Well, I'll withdraw the remark."

"If we stay here until morning," Peter said, dubiously, "how do we know the sun won't rise in the west?"

"All right," Jimmie replied. "Guy me if you want to, but you'll find this is no joke before we get through with it."

"I know that now," Peter replied. "I never was so tired in my life, and I'd give a ten-dollar note for a drink of cold water."

The boys sat down on dry tree knuckles, buttressed roots rising three feet from the soil, and discussed the situation gravely. After a short time Peter got up with a start and began prancing about the little free space where they were.

"I've got it!" he cried. "We're both chumps."

"They usually act that way when they're dyin' of hunger an' thirst," Jimmie said, dolefully. "Keep quiet, an' you'll feel better in a short time."

"But I know which way to go now," Peter insisted.

"Oh, yes, I know. You're goin' to tell which is north by the moss on the trees. Or you're goin' to tell which way is northeast by the way the breeze lays the bushes. Or you're goin' to make a compass out of the dial of your watch. I've read all about it. But we're stuck, just the same, not knowin' the constellations."

"Stuck--nothing," cried Peter. "Look here. Which way does the Panama canal run?"

"North and south, across the Isthmus, of course."

"There's where you're wrong! From Gatun to Panama the line of the cut is more east and west than north and south. Now revise your opinion of the moon. At this time of night she would be in the southwest."

"That would make a little difference," admitted Jimmie.

"Well, there you are. Take a line running southeast and a couple of chumps going almost southeast by keeping a southwest object to the right, where will they land? That's mixed, but I guess you know what it means. Where would a couple of chumps find the southeast line?"

"About next week at two o'clock," cried Jimmie. "Come on. We'll start right now, an' get out of the jungle before daylight."

In a few moments after taking a fresh start the boys came to a place where a small body of water made a clearing in the forest. The little lake, or swamp, for it was little more than a well-filled marsh, was of course walled about by trees and climbing vines, but there was a lane to the southwest which permitted the light of the moon to fall upon the water.

The surface of the pool was well covered with floating plants, and now and then, as the boys looked through the undergrowth, a squirming thing ducked under and out of sight. There was something beautiful about the spot, and yet it was uncanny, too.

"I wish that was all right for a drink," Jimmie observed.

"It is all right for a drink--if you're tired of living," Peter said. "Say," he added, pointing, "what do you think of that for a creeper, over there? I'm sure I saw it climbing down off that tree."

Jimmie took one look and started away, drawing Peter with him.

"It's a python!" he exclaimed. "Come on."

"There are no pythons in this country," Peter replied, pulling back and looking out over the water again.

"It is a boa, then," Jimmie cried. "Come away. It is getting out of the tree!"

The boys did not move for a moment. They seemed to be fascinated by what they saw. It was a serpent at least ten yards in length--a serpent showing many bright colors, a thick, elongated head, a body at least ten inches in diameter, and a blunt tail. As it moved down the column of the tree it launched its head out level in the air as if anticipating a feast of Boy Scout. The shining head, the small, vicious eyes, drew nearer to the faces of the watchers, and it seemed as if the serpent was about to leap across the pool.

Directly, however, the reptile threw its head and the upper part of its body over a limb on a tree nearer to the boys and drew its whole squirming body across.

"It is coming over here, all right," whispered Peter. "Can you hit it? A bullet landed in that flat head might help some."

"Of course I can hit it."

Jimmie would not have admitted fright, but his voice was a trifle shaky. It is no light thing for a boy reared on the pavements of New York to face a serpent in the midst of a tropical forest at night.

"You shoot, then," Peter said. "I'll hold my fire until we see what happens."

Jimmie drew his revolver and waited for a moment, as the head of the snake was now in the shadow of the tree. When it came out again, still creeping nearer to the boys, swaying, reaching out for another tree which would have brought it within striking distance, the boy took careful aim and fired.

There was a puff of smoke, the smell of burning powder, a great switching in the branches of the tree. Peter seized Jimmie by the arm and drew him back.

"If you didn't hit him he'll jump," the boy said.

When the smoke which had discolored the heavy air drifted away, they saw the serpent still hanging from the limb, pushing his head out this way and that and flashing a scarlet tongue at its enemies.

"You hit him, all right," Peter said. "Try again."

After the third shot the body of the serpent hung down from the tree with only a stir of life. It was evident that at least one of the bullets had found the brain.

"It will hang there until it decays," Peter said. "That tail will never let go. Come on away. It makes me sick."

"There's always two where there's one," Jimmie said, "and we must move cautiously, for there would be no release from the coils of a snake like that."

"I thought I heard something moving in there a moment ago," Peter said, pointing away from the pool. "I'll go in and see."

"Don't you stir," advised Jimmie. "There's some one in there. I heard voices. We have been followed all this long way, and the shooting must have located us."

This was a very natural conclusion, and the boys crept behind the bole of a tree and waited for what seemed to them a long time. Then footsteps were heard, soft, stealthy steps, like those of a man walking in padded stockings. The great leaves of a huge plant with red blossoms moved, and a pair of fierce eyes looked out.

"That's a panther," whispered Jimmie.

"A South American jaguar," Peter corrected. "They eat men when they get desperately hungry."

The great cat moved out from behind the plant and stood in the shaft of moonlight. It was a graceful beast, an alert, handsome creature of the woods, but did not look in that way to the boys just then.

In size it was nearly the equal of the full grown tiger. The head was large, the body thick yet supple, the limbs robust. In color it was of a rich yellow, with black rings, in which stood black dots, marking the sides.

The beast is known as the South American tiger, and is by far the most powerful and dangerous of tropic beasts of prey. It is swift enough to capture horses on the open pampas and strong enough to drag them away after the kill. In some of the countries south of the Isthmus the jaguar is a menace to the inhabitants, and settlements have been deserted because of them. It is rarely that one is found as far north as the Isthmus.

While the boys watched the cat slipped out one soft paw after the other and looked about, as if awakened from sleep. Then it moved toward the tree behind which the boys were partly concealed.

"Now for it," whispered Peter. "If we miss it is all off with one of us."

"He may not come here," Jimmie said, hopefully. "He was probably brought here by the smell of blood. Say! Don't you hear something back of us? This cat's mate may be there."

And the cat's mate was there. Not looking in their direction, but sitting up like a house cat, watching the swaying body of the serpent. Her nose was pushed out a trifle, as if scenting supper in the dangling horror.

"The mate is here, all right," Peter said, in a whisper. "We're between the two of them. What is the first one doing?"

"Coming on," whispered Jimmie, "and I've got only three shots in my gun."

"That's all you will have time to use if you miss the first one," Peter said.

"That's right," Jimmie returned.

"And we'll have to shoot together," Peter went on.

"Is your hand steady?" asked Jimmie.

"As a rock," was the reply. "Good-bye to little old New York if it wasn't. Funny notion that a jaguar should be trying to eat a Wolf and a Black Bear."

"And a baby Wolf, too," added Jimmie. "My beast is coming on, bound to investigate this tree. When he gets so close that he can spring I'll give the word, and we'll shoot together."

The cat approached slowly. At first it did not seem to catch the scent of prey in the neighborhood of the tree. It came on with cautious steps, crouching low, as if ready to leap.

Then the female caught sight and scent of the boys and uttered a low cry of warning which the male appeared to understand, for in a second its ears were laid down on its neck and the belly touched the ground.

"When you shoot keep the lead going," advised Jimmy. "Now!"

Again, in that splendid tropical scene, there was a puff of smoke, one, two, three, four. Again the odor of burned powder attacked the nostrils and clouded the heavy air. Again there was a great floundering in the thicket.

The boys stood waiting for the snarling impact, but none came.

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