Ken ward in the jungle, p.20
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       Ken Ward in the Jungle, p.20
 

           Zane Grey
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  *XX*

  *TREED BY WILD PIGS*

  Pepe's long years of _mozo_ work, rowing for tarpon fishermen, now stoodthe boys in good stead. All the hot hours of the day he bent steadilyto the oars. Occasionally they came to rifts, but these were notdifficult to pass, being mere swift, shallow channels over sandy bottom.The rocks and the rapids were things of the past.

  George lay in a kind of stupor, and Hal lolled in his seat. Ken,however, kept alert, and as the afternoon wore on began to be annoyed atthe scarcity of camp-sites.

  The muddy margins of the river, the steep banks, and the tick-infestedforests offered few places where it was possible to rest, to say nothingof sleep. Every turn in the widening river gave Ken hope, whichresulted in disappointment. He found consolation, however, in the factthat every turn and every hour put him so much farther on the way.

  About five o'clock Ken had unexpected good luck in shape of a smallsand-bar cut off from the mainland, and therefore free of cattle-tracks.It was clean and dry, with a pile of driftwood at one end.

  "Tumble out, boys," called Ken, as Pepe beached the boat. "We'll pitchcamp here."

  Neither Hal nor George showed any alacrity. Ken watched his brother; hefeared to see some of the symptoms of George's sickness. Both lads,however, seemed cheerful, though too tired to be of much use in thepitching of camp.

  Ken could not recover his former good spirits. There was a sense offoreboding in his mind that all was not well, that he must hurry, hurry.And although George appeared to be holding his own, Hal healthy enough,and Pepe's brooding quiet at least no worse, Ken could not rid himselfof gloom. If he had answered the question that knocked at his mind hewould have admitted a certainty of disaster. So he kept active, andwhen there were no more tasks for that day he worked on his note-book,and then watched the flight of wild fowl.

  The farther down the river the boys traveled the more numerous were theherons and cranes and ducks. But they saw no more of the beautiful_pato real_, as Pepe called them, or the little russet-colored ducks, orthe dismal-voiced bitterns. On the other hand, wild geese were common,and there were flocks and flocks of teal and canvasbacks.

  Pepe, as usual, cooked duck. And he had to eat it. George had lost hisappetite altogether. Hal had lost his taste for meat, at least. AndKen made a frugal meal of rice.

  "Boys," he said, "the less you eat from now on the better for you."

  It took resolution to drink the cocoa, for Ken could not shut outremembrance of the green water and the shore-line of dead and decayingcattle. Still, he was parched with thirst; he had to drink. That nighthe slept ten hours without turning over. Next morning he had to shakePepe to rouse him.

  Ken took turns at the oars with Pepe. It was not only that he fanciedPepe was weakening and in need of an occasional rest, but the fact thathe wanted to be occupied, and especially to keep in good condition. Theymade thirty miles by four o'clock, and most of it against a breeze. Notin the whole distance did they pass half a dozen places fit for a camp.Toward evening the river narrowed again, resembling somewhat the SantaRosa of earlier acquaintance. The magnificent dark forests crowded highon the banks, always screened and curtained by gray moss, as if to keeptheir secrets.

  The sun was just tipping with gold the mossy crests of a grove of giantceibas, when the boys rounded a bend to come upon the first ledge ofrocks for two days. A low, grassy promontory invited the eyes searchingfor camping-ground. This spot appeared ideal; it certainly wasbeautiful. The ledge jutted into the river almost to the oppositeshore, forcing the water to rush through a rocky trough into a greatfoam-spotted pool below.

  They could not pitch the tent, since the stony ground would not admitstakes, so they laid the canvas flat. Pepe went up the bank with his_machete_ in search of firewood. To Ken's utmost delight he found alittle spring of sweet water trickling from the ledge, and by digging ahole was enabled to get a drink, the first one in more than a week.

  A little later, as he was spreading the blankets, George called hisattention to shouts up in the woods.

  "Pepe's treed something," Ken said. "Take your gun and hunt him up."

  Ken went on making a bed and busying himself about camp, with littleheed to George's departure. Presently, however, he was startled byunmistakable sounds of alarm. George and Pepe were yelling in unison,and, from the sound, appeared to be quite a distance away.

  "What the deuce!" Ken ejaculated, snatching up his rifle. He snapped aclip in the magazine and dropped several loaded clips and a box of extrashells into his coat pocket. After his adventure with the jaguar hedecided never again to find himself short of ammunition. Running up thesloping bank, he entered the forest, shouting for his companions.Answering cries came from in front and a little to the left. He couldnot make out what was said.

  Save for drooping moss the forest was comparatively open, and at ahundred paces from the river-bank were glades covered with thickets andlong grass and short palm-trees. The ground sloped upward quiteperceptibly.

  "Hey, boys, where are you?" called Ken.

  Pepe's shrill yells mingled with George's shouts. At first theirmeaning was unintelligible, but after calling twice Ken understood.

  "Javelin! Go back! Javelin! We're treed! Wild pigs! Santa Maria!Run for your life!"

  This was certainly enlightening and rather embarrassing. Ken rememberedthe other time the boys had made him run, and he grew hot with anger.

  "I'll be blessed if I'll run!" he said, in the pride of conceit andwounded vanity. Whereupon he began to climb the slope, stopping everyfew steps to listen and look. Ken wondered what had made Pepe go so farfor fire-wood; still, there was nothing but green wood all about.Walking round a clump of seared and yellow palms that rustled in thebreeze, Ken suddenly espied George's white shirt. He was in a scrubbysapling not fifteen feet from the ground. Then Ken espied Pepe, perchedin the forks of a ceiba, high above the thickets and low shrubbery. Kenwas scarcely more than a dozen rods from them down the gradual slope.Both saw him at once.

  "Run, you Indian! Run!" bawled George, waving his hands.

  George implored Ken to fly to save his precious life.

  "What for? you fools! I don't see anything to run from," Ken shoutedback. His temper had soured a little during the last few days.

  "You'd better run, or you'll have to climb," replied George. "Wildpigs--a thousand of 'em!"

  "Where?"

  "Right under us. There! Oh, if they see you! Listen to this." Hebroke off a branch, trimmed it of leaves, and flung it down. Ken hearda low, trampling roar of many hard little feet, brushings in thethicket, and cracking of twigs. As close as he was, however, he couldnot see a moving object. The dead grass and brush were several feethigh, up to his waist in spots, and, though he changed position severaltimes, no _javelin_ did he see.

  "You want to look out. Say, man, these are wild pigs--boars, I tellyou! They'll kill you!" bellowed George.

  "Are you going to stay up there all night?" Ken asked, sarcastically.

  "We'll stay till they go away."

  "All right, I'll scare them away," Ken replied, and, suiting action toword, he worked the automatic as fast as it would shoot, aiming into thethicket under George.

  Of all the foolish things a nettled hunter ever did that was the worst.A roar answered the echoes of the rifle, and the roar rose from everyside of the trees the victims were in. Nervously Ken clamped a freshclip of shells into the rifle. Clouds of dust arose, and strange littlesqueals and grunts seemed to come from every quarter. Then the grassand bushes were suddenly torn apart by swift gray forms with glitteringeyes. They were everywhere.

  "_Run_! _Run_!" shrieked George, high above the tumult.

  For a thrilling instant Ken stood his ground and fired at the bobbinggray backs. But every break made in the ranks by the powerful shellsfilled in a flash. Before that vicious charge he wavered, then ran asif pursued by demons.

 
; The way was downhill. Ken tripped, fell, rolled over and over, then,still clutching the rifle, rose with a bound and fled. The javelin hadgained. They were at his heels. He ran like a deer. Then, seeing a lowbranch, he leaped for it, grasped it with one hand, and, crooking anelbow round it, swung with the old giant swing.

  Before Ken knew how it had happened he was astride a dangerously swayingbranch directly over a troop of brownish-gray, sharp-snouted,fiendish-eyed little peccaries.

  Some were young and sleek, others were old and rough; some had littleyellow teeth or tusks, and all pointed their sharp noses upward, as ifexpecting him to fall into their very mouths. Feeling safe, once moreKen loaded the rifle and began to kill the biggest, most vicious_javelin_. When he had killed twelve in twelve shots, he saw thatshooting a few would be of no avail. There were hundreds, it seemed,and he had scarcely fifty shells left. Moreover, the rifle-barrel grewso hot that it burnt his hands. Hearing George's yell, he replied,somewhat to his disgust:

  "I'm all right, George--only treed. How 're you?"

  "Pigs all gone--they chased you--Pepe thinks we can risk running."

  "Don't take any chances," Ken yelled, in answer.

  "Hi! Hi! What's wrong with you gazabos?" came Hal's yell from down theslope.

  "Go back to the boat," shouted Ken.

  "What for?"

  "We're all treed by javelin--wild pigs."

  "I've got to see that," was Hal's reply.

  Ken called a sharp, angry order for Hal to keep away. But Hal did notobey. Ken heard him coming, and presently saw him enter one of thelittle glades. He had Ken's shotgun, and was peering cautiously about.

  "Ken, where are you?"

  "Here! Didn't I tell you to keep away? The pigs heard you--some of themare edging out there. Look out! Run, kid, run!"

  A troop of _javelin_ flashed into the glade. Hal saw them and raised theshotgun.

  _Boom_! He shot both barrels.

  The shot tore through the brush all around Ken, but fortunately beneathhim. Neither the noise nor the lead stopped the pugnacious littlepeccaries.

  Hal dropped Ken's hammerless and fled.

  "Run faster!" yelled George, who evidently enjoyed Hal's plight."They'll get you! Run hard!"

  The lad was running close to the record when he disappeared.

  In trying to find a more comfortable posture, so he could apply himselfto an interesting study of his captors, Ken made the startling discoverythat the branch which upheld him was splitting from the tree-trunk. Hisheart began to pound in his breast; then it went up into his throat.Every move he made--for he had started to edge toward the tree--widenedthe little white split.

  "Boys, my branch is breaking!" he called, piercingly.

  "Can't you get another?" returned George.

  "No; I daren't move! Hurry, boys! If you don't scare these brutes offI'm a goner!"

  Ken's eyes were riveted upon the gap where the branch was slowlyseparating from the tree-trunk. He glanced about to see if he could notleap to another branch. There was nothing near that would hold him. Indesperation he resolved to drop the rifle, cautiously get to his feetupon the branch, and with one spring try to reach the tree. When aboutto act upon this last chance he heard Pepe's shrill yell and a crashingin the brush. Then followed the unmistakable roar and crackling of fire.Pepe had fired the brush--no, he was making his way toward Ken, armedwith a huge torch.

  "Pepe, you'll fire the jungle!" cried Ken, forgetting what was at stakeand that Pepe could not understand much English. But Ken had been inone forest-fire and remembered it with horror.

  The _javelin_ stirred uneasily, and ran around under Ken, tumbling overone another.

  When Pepe burst through the brush, holding before him long-stemmed palmleaves flaring in hissing flames, the whole pack of pigs bowled awayinto the forest at breakneck speed.

  Ken leaped down, and the branch came with him. George came running up,his face white, his eyes big. Behind him rose a roar that Ken thoughtmight be another drove of pigs till he saw smoke and flame.

  "Boys, the jungle's on fire. Run for the river!"

  In their hurry they miscalculated the location of camp and dashed out ofthe jungle over a steep bank, and they all had a tumble. It wasnecessary to wade to reach the rocky ledge.

  Ken shook hands with Pepe.

  "George, tell him that was a nervy thing to do. He saved my life, I dobelieve."

  "You fellows did a lot of hollering," said Hal, from his perch in theboat.

  "Say, young man, you've got to go back after my gun. Why didn't you dowhat I told you? Foolish, to run into danger that way!" declared Ken,severely.

  "You don't suppose I was going to overlook a chance to see Ken Wardtreed, do you?"

  "Well, you saw him, and that was no joke. But I wish Pepe could havescared those pigs off without firing the jungle."

  "Pepe says it 'll give the ticks a good roasting," said George.

  "We'll have roast pig, anyway," added Ken.

  He kept watching the jungle back of the camp as if he expected it toblow up like a powder-mine. But this Tamaulipas jungle was not PenetierForest. A cloud of smoke rolled up; there was a frequent roaring of drypalms; but the green growths did not burn. It was not much of aforest-fire, and Ken concluded that it would soon burn out.

  So he took advantage of the waning daylight to spread out his map andplot in the day's travel. This time Hal watched him with a quietattention that was both flattering and stimulating; and at theconclusion of the task he said:

  "Well, Ken, we're having sport, but we're doing somethingmore--something worth while."

 
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