Ken ward in the jungle, p.17
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       Ken Ward in the Jungle, p.17
 

           Zane Grey
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  *XVII*

  *A MIXED-UP TIGER-HUNT*

  Next morning Hal arose bright as a lark, but silent, mysterious, andwith far-seeing eyes. It made Ken groan in spirit to look at the boy.Yes, indeed, they were far from home, and the person did not live on theearth who could play a trick on Hal Ward and escape vengeance.

  After breakfast Hal went off with a long-handled landing-net, obviouslyto capture birds or fish or mice or something.

  George said he did not feel very well, and he looked grouchy. Hegrowled around camp in a way that might have nettled Ken, but Ken,having had ten hours of undisturbed sleep, could not have found faultwith anybody.

  "Garrapato George, come out of it. Cheer up," said Ken. "Why don't youtake Pinilius Pepe as gun-bearer and go out to shoot something? Youhaven't used up much ammunition yet."

  Ken's sarcasm was not lost upon George.

  "Well, if I do go, I'll not come running back to camp without somegame."

  "My son," replied Ken, genially, "if you should happen to meet a jaguaryou'd--you'd just let out one squawk and then never touch even the highplaces of the jungle. You'd take that crazy .32 rifle for agolf-stick."

  "Would I?" returned George. "All right."

  Ken watched George awhile that morning. The lad performed a lot of weirdthings around camp. Then he bounced bullets off the water in vaineffort to locate the basking crocodile. Then he tried his hand atfishing once more. He could get more bites than any fisherman Ken eversaw, but he could not catch anything.

  By and by the heat made Ken drowsy, and, stretching himself in theshade, he thought of a scheme to rid the camp of the noisy George.

  "Say, George, take my hammerless and get Pepe to row you up along theshady bank of the river," suggested Ken. "Go sneaking along and you'llhave some sport."

  George was delighted with that idea. He had often cast longing eyes atthe hammerless gun. Pepe, too, looked exceedingly pleased. They got inthe boat and were in the act of starting when George jumped ashore. Hereached for his .32 and threw the lever down to see if there was a shellin the chamber. Then he proceeded to fill his pockets with ammunition.

  "Might need a rifle," he said. "You can't tell what you're going to seein this unholy jungle."

  Whereupon he went aboard again and Pepe rowed leisurely up-stream.

  "Be careful, boys," Ken called, and composed himself for a nap. Hepromptly fell asleep. How long he slept he had no idea, and when heawoke he lay with languor, not knowing at the moment what had awakenedhim. Presently he heard a shout, then a rifle-shot. Sitting up, he sawthe boat some two hundred yards above, drifting along about the edge ofthe shade. Pepe was in it alone. He appeared to be excited, for Kenobserved him lay down an oar and pick up a gun, and then reverse theperformance. Also he was jabbering to George, who evidently was out onthe bank, but invisible to Ken.

  "Hey, Pepe!" Ken yelled. "What 're you doing?"

  Strange to note, Pepe did not reply or even turn.

  "Now where in the deuce is George?" Ken said, impatiently.

  The hollow crack of George's .32 was a reply to the question. Ken heardthe singing of a bullet. Suddenly, _spou!_ it twanged on a branch nottwenty feet over his head, and then went whining away. He heard it ticka few leaves or twigs. There was not any languor in the alacrity withwhich Ken put the big cypress-tree between him and up-stream. Then heventured to peep forth.

  "Look out where you're slinging lead!" he yelled. He doubted not thatGeorge had treed a black squirrel or was pegging away at parrots. YetPepe's motions appeared to carry a good deal of feeling, too much, hethought presently, for small game. So Ken began to wake up thoroughly.He lost sight of Pepe behind a low branch of a tree that leaned somefifty yards above the island. Then he caught sight of him again. He waspoling with an oar, evidently trying to go up or down--Ken could nottell which.

  _Spang_! _Spang_! George's .32 spoke twice more, and the bullets bothstruck in the middle of the stream and ricochetted into the far bankwith little thuds.

  Something prompted Ken to reach for his automatic, snap the clip intight, and push in the safety. At the same time he muttered George'swords: "You can never tell what's coming off in this unholy jungle."

  Then, peeping out from behind the cypress, Ken watched the boat driftdown-stream. Pepe had stopped poling and was looking closely into thethick grass and vines of the bank. Ken heard his voice, but could nottell what he said. He watched keenly for some sight of George. Themoments passed, the boat drifted, and Ken began to think there wasnothing unusual afoot. In this interval Pepe drifted withinseventy-five yards of camp. Again Ken called to ask him what George wasstalking, and this time Pepe yelled; but Ken did not know what he said.Hard upon this came George's sharp voice:

  "Look out, there, on the island. Get behind something. I've got himbetween the river and the flat. He's in this strip of shore brush.There!"

  _Spang_! _Spang_! _Spang_! Bullets hummed and whistled all about theisland. Ken was afraid to peep out with even one eye. He began tofancy that George was playing Indian.

  "Fine, Georgie! You're doing great!" he shouted. "You couldn't comeany closer to me if you were aiming at me. What is it?"

  Then a crashing of brush and a flash of yellow low down along the bankchanged the aspect of the situation.

  "Panther! or jaguar!" Ken ejaculated, in amaze. In a second he wastight-muscled, cold, and clear-witted. At that instant he saw George'swhite shirt about the top of the brush.

  "Go back! Get out in the open!" Ken ordered. "Do you hear me?"

  "Where is he?" shouted George, paying not the slightest attention toKen. Ken jumped from behind the tree, and, running to the head of theisland, he knelt low near the water with rifle ready.

  "Tigre! Tigre! Tigre!" screamed Pepe, waving his arms, then pointing.

  George crashed into the brush. Ken saw the leaves move, then a longyellow shape. With the quickness of thought and the aim of thewing-shot, Ken fired. From the brush rose a strange wild scream.George aimed at a shaking mass of grass and vines, but, before he couldfire, a long, lean, ugly beast leaped straight out from the bank to dropinto the water with a heavy splash.

  Like a man half scared to death Pepe waved Ken's double-barreled gun.Then a yellow head emerged from the water. It was in line with theboat. Ken dared not shoot.

  "Kill him, George," yelled Ken. "Tell Pepe to kill him."

  George seemed unaccountably silent. But Ken had no time to look forhim, for his eyes were riveted on Pepe. The native did not know how tohold a gun properly, let alone aim it. He had, however, sense enough totry. He got the stock under his chin, and, pointing the gun, heevidently tried to fire. But the hammerless did not go off. Then Pepefumbled at the safety-catch, which he evidently remembered seeing Kenuse.

  The jaguar, swimming with difficulty, perhaps badly wounded, made rightfor the boat. Pepe was standing on the seat. Awkwardly he aimed.

  _Boom_! He had pulled both triggers. The recoil knocked him backward.The hammerless fell in the boat, and Pepe's broad back hit the water;his bare, muscular legs clung to the gunwale, and slipped loose.

  He had missed the jaguar, for it kept on toward the boat. Still Kendared not shoot.

  "George, what on earth is the matter with you?" shouted Ken.

  Then Ken saw him standing in the brush on the bank, fussing over thecrazy .32. Of course at the critical moment something had gone wrongwith the old rifle.

  Pepe's head bobbed up just on the other side of the boat. The jaguarwas scarcely twenty feet distant and now in line with both boat and man.At that instant a heavy swirl in the water toward the middle of theriver drew Ken's attention. He saw the big crocodile, and the greatcreature did not seem at all lazy at that moment.

  George began to scream in Spanish. Ken felt his hair stiffen and hisface blanch. Pepe, who had been solely occupied with the jaguar, caughtGeorge's meaning and turned to see the pe
ril in his rear.

  He bawled his familiar appeal to the saints. Then he grasped the gunwaleof the boat just as it swung against the branches of the low-leaningtree. He vaulted rather than climbed aboard.

  Ken forgot that Pepe could understand little English, and he yelled:"Grab an oar, Pepe. Keep the jaguar in the water. Don't let him in theboat."

  But Pepe, even if he had understood, had a better idea. Nimble, he ranover the boat and grasped the branches of the tree just as the jaguarflopped paws and head over the stern gunwale.

  Ken had only a fleeting instant to get a bead on that yellow body, andbefore he could be sure of an aim the branch weighted with Pepe sankdown to hide both boat and jaguar. The chill of fear for Pepe changedto hot rage at this new difficulty.

  Then George began to shoot.

  _Spang_!

  Ken heard the bullet hit the boat.

  "George--wait!" shouted Ken. "Don't shoot holes in the boat. You'llsink it."

  _Spang_! _Spang_! _Spang_! _Spang_!

  That was as much as George cared about such a possibility. He stood onthe bank and worked the lever of his .32 with wild haste. Ken plainlyheard the spat of the bullets, and the sound was that of lead in contactwith wood. So he knew George was not hitting the jaguar.

  "You'll ruin the boat!" roared Ken.

  Pepe had worked up from the lower end of the branch, and as soon as hestraddled it and hunched himself nearer shore the foliage rose out ofthe water, exposing the boat. George kept on shooting till his magazinewas empty. Ken's position was too low for him to see the jaguar.

  Then the boat swung loose from the branch and, drifting down, graduallyapproached the shore.

  "Pull yourself together, George," called Ken. "Keep cool. Make sure ofyour aim. We've got him now."

  "He's mine! He's mine! He's mine! Don't you dare shoot!" howledGeorge. "I got him!"

  "All right. But steady up, can't you? Hit him once, anyway."

  Apparently without aim George fired. Then, jerking the lever, he firedagain. The boat drifted into overhanging vines. Once more Ken saw ayellow and black object, then a trembling trail of leaves.

  "He's coming out below you. Look out," yelled Ken.

  George disappeared. Ken saw no sign of the jaguar and heard no shot orshout from George. Pepe dropped from his branch to the bank and caughtthe boat. Ken called, and while Pepe rowed over to the island, he gotinto some clothes fit to hunt in. Then they hurried back across thechannel to the bank.

  Ken found the trail of the jaguar, followed it up to the edge of thebrush, and lost it in the weedy flat. George came out of a patch ofbamboos. He looked white and shaky and wild with disappointment.

  "Oh, I had a dandy shot as he came out, but the blamed gun jammed again.Come on, we'll get him. He's all shot up. I bet I hit him ten times.He won't get away."

  Ken finally got George back to camp. The boat was half full of water,making it necessary to pull it out on the bank and turn it over. Therewere ten bullet-holes in it.

  "George, you hit the boat, anyway," Ken said; "now we've a job on ourhands."

  Hal came puffing into camp. He was red of face, and the sweat stood outon his forehead. He had a small animal of some kind in a sack, and hislegs were wet to his knees.

  "What was--all the--pegging about?" he asked, breathlessly. "I expectedto find camp surrounded by Indians."

  "Kid, it's been pretty hot round here for a little. George and Peperounded up a tiger. Tell us about it, George," said Ken.

  So while Ken began to whittle pegs to pound into the bullet-holes,George wiped his flushed, sweaty face and talked.

  "We were up there a piece, round the bend. I saw a black squirrel andwent ashore to get him. But I couldn't find him, and in kicking roundin the brush I came into a kind of trail or runway. Then I ran plumbinto that darned jaguar. I was so scared I couldn't remember my gun.But the cat turned and ran. It was lucky he didn't make at me. When Isaw him run I got back my courage. I called for Pepe to row down-streamand keep a lookout. Then I got into the flat. I must have come down agood ways before I saw him. I shot, and he dodged back into the brushagain. I fired into the moving bushes where he was. And pretty soon Iventured to get in on the bank, where I had a better chance. I guess itwas about that time that I heard you yell. Then it all happened. Youhit him! Didn't you hear him scream? What a jump he made! If it hadn'tbeen so terrible when your hammerless kicked Pepe overboard, I wouldhave died laughing. Then I was paralyzed when the jaguar swam for theboat. He was hurt, for the water was bloody. Things came off quick, Itell you. Like a monkey Pepe scrambled into the tree. When I got my gunloaded the jaguar was crouched down in the bottom of the boat watchingPepe. Then I began to shoot. I can't realize he got away from us.What was the reason you didn't knock him?"

  "Well, you see, George, there were two good reasons," Ken replied. "Thefirst was that at that time I was busy dodging bullets from your rifle.And the second was that you threatened my life if I killed your jaguar."

  "Did I get as nutty as that? But it was pretty warm there for alittle.... Say, was he a big one? My eyes were so hazy I didn't seehim clear."

  "He wasn't big, not half as big as the one I lost yesterday. Yours wasa long, wiry beast, like a panther, and mean-looking."

  Pepe sat on the bank, and while he nursed his bruises he smoked. Oncehe made a speech that was untranslatable, but Hal gave it aninterpretation which was probably near correct.

  "That's right, Pepe. Pretty punk tiger-hunters--mucho punk!"

 
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