Ken ward in the jungle, p.7
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       Ken Ward in the Jungle, p.7
 

           Zane Grey
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  *VII*

  *RUNNING THE RAPIDS*

  Some time in the night a yell awakened Ken. He sat up, clutching hisrevolver. The white moonlight made all as clear as day. Hal lay deep inslumber. George was raising himself, half aroused. But Pepe was gone.

  Ken heard a thrashing about outside. Leaping up he ran out, and wasfrightened to see Pepe beating and clawing and tearing at himself like aman possessed of demons.

  "Pepe, what's wrong?" shouted Ken.

  It seemed that Pepe only grew more violent in his wrestling about. ThenKen was sure Pepe had been stung by a scorpion or bitten by a snake.

  But he was dumfounded to see George bound like an apparition out of thetent and begin evolutions that made Pepe's look slow.

  "Hey, what's wrong with you jumping-jacks?" yelled Ken.

  George was as grimly silent as an Indian running the gantlet, but Kenthought it doubtful if any Indian ever slapped and tore at his body inGeorge's frantic manner. To add to the mystery Hal suddenly popped outof the tent. He was yelling in a way to do justice to the name Ken hadlately given him, and, as for wild and whirling antics, his were simplymarvelous.

  "Good land!" ejaculated Ken. Had the boys all gone mad? Despite hisalarm, Ken had to roar with laughter at those three dancing figures inthe moonlight. A rush of ideas went through Ken's confused mind. Andthe last prompted him to look in the tent.

  He saw a wide bar of black crossing the moonlit ground, the grass, andthe blankets. This bar moved. It was alive. Bending low Ken descriedthat it was made by ants. An army of jungle ants on a march! They hadcome in a straight line along the base of the little hill and theirpassageway led under the canvas. Pepe happened to be the first in line,and they had surged over him. As he had awakened, and jumped up ofcourse, the ants had begun to bite. The same in turn happened to Georgeand then Hal.

  Ken was immensely relieved, and had his laugh out. The stream of antsmoved steadily and quite rapidly, and soon passed from sight. By thistime Pepe and the boys had threshed themselves free of ants and intosome degree of composure.

  "Say, you nightmare fellows! Come back to bed," said Ken. "Any onewould think something had really happened to you."

  Pepe snorted, which made Ken think the native understood something ofEnglish. And the boys grumbled loudly.

  "Ants! Ants as big as wasps! They bit worse than helgramites,"declared Hal. "Oh, they missed you. You always are lucky. I'm notafraid of all the old jaguars in this jungle. But I can't stand biting,crawling bugs. I wish you hadn't made me come on this darn trip."

  "Ha! Ha!" laughed Ken.

  "Just wait, Hal," put in George, grimly. "Just wait. It's coming tohim!"

  The boys slept well the remainder of the night and, owing to the breakin their rest, did not awaken early. The sun shone hot when Ken rolledout; a creamy mist was dissolving over the curve of the mountain-range;parrots were screeching in the near-by trees.

  After breakfast Ken set about packing the boat as it had been done theday before.

  "I think we'll do well to leave the trunk in the boat after this, unlesswe find a place where we want to make a permanent camp for a while,"said Ken.

  Before departing he carefully looked over the ground to see that nothingwas left, and espied a heavy fish-line which George had baited, set, andforgotten.

  "Hey, George, pull up your trot-line. It looks pretty much stretched tome. Maybe you've got a fish."

  Ken happened to be busy at the boat when George started to take in theline. An exclamation from Pepe, George's yell, and a loud splash madeKen jump up in double-quick time. Hal also came running.

  George was staggering on the bank, leaning back hard on the heavy line.A long, angry swirl in the pool told of a powerful fish. It was likelyto pull George in.

  "Let go the line!" yelled Ken.

  But George was not letting go of any fish-lines. He yelled for Pepe,and went down on his knees before Pepe got to him. Both then pulled onthe line. The fish, or whatever it was at the other end, gave a mightyjerk that almost dragged the two off the bank.

  "Play him, play him!" shouted Ken. "You've got plenty of line. Give himsome."

  Hal now added his weight and strength, and the three of them, unmindfulof Ken's advice, hauled back with might and main. The line parted andthey sprawled on the grass.

  "What a sockdologer!" exclaimed Hal.

  "I had that hook baited with a big piece of duck meat," said George."We must have been hooked to a crocodile. Things are happening to us."

  "Yes, so I've noticed," replied Ken, dryly. "But if you fellows hadn'tpulled so hard you might have landed that thing, whatever it was. Allaboard now. We must be on the move--we don't know what we have beforeus."

  When they got into the boat Ken took the oars, much to Pepe's surprise.It was necessary to explain to him that Ken would handle the boat inswift water. They shoved off, and Ken sent one regretful glance up theriver, at the shady aisle between the green banks, at the white rapids,and the great colored dome of the mountain. He almost hesitated, for hedesired to see more of that jungle-covered mountain. But somethingalready warned Ken to lose no time in the trip down the Santa Rosa.There did not seem to be any reason for hurry, yet he felt it necessary.But he asked Pepe many questions and kept George busy interpreting namesof trees and flowers and wild creatures.

  Going down-stream on any river, mostly, would have been pleasure, butdrifting on the swift current of the Santa Rosa and rowing under thewonderful moss-bearded cypresses was almost like a dream. It was toobeautiful to seem real. The smooth stretch before the first rapid wasshort, however, and then all Ken's attention had to be given to thehandling of the boat. He saw that George and Pepe both expected to getout and wade down the rapids as they had waded up. He had a surprise instore for them. The rapids that he could not shoot would have to bepretty bad.

  "You're getting close," shouted George, warningly.

  With two sweeps of the oars Ken turned the boat stern first down-stream,then dipped on the low green incline, and sailed down toward the waves.They struck the first wave with a shock, and the water flew all over theboys. Pepe was tremendously excited; he yelled and made wild motionswith his hands; George looked a little frightened. Hal enjoyed it.Whatever the rapid appeared to them, it was magnificent to Ken; and itwas play to manage the boat in such water. A little pull on one oar andthen on the other kept the stern straight down-stream. The channel hecould make out a long way ahead. He amused himself by watching Georgeand Pepe. There were stones in the channel, and the water rose angrilyabout them. A glance was enough to tell that he could float over thesewithout striking. But the boys thought they were going to hit everystone, and were uneasy all the time. Twice he had to work to passledges and sunken trees upon which the current bore down hard. When Kenneared one of these he dipped the oars and pulled back to stop or lessenthe momentum; then a stroke turned the boat half broadside to thecurrent. That would force it to one side, and another stroke would turnthe boat straight. At the bottom of this rapid they encountered a longtriangle of choppy waves that they bumped and splashed over. They camethrough with nothing wet but the raised flap of canvas in the stern.

  Pepe regarded Ken with admiring eyes, and called him _grande mozo_.

  "Shooting rapids is great sport," proclaimed George.

  They drifted through several little rifts, and then stopped at the headof the narrow chute that had been such a stumbling-block on the way up.Looked at from above, this long, narrow channel, with several S curves,was a fascinating bit of water for a canoeist. It tempted Ken to shootit even with the boat. But he remembered the four-foot waves at thebottom, and besides he resented the importunity of the spirit of daringso early in the game. Risk, and perhaps peril, would come soon enough.So he decided to walk along the shore and float the boat through with arope.

  The thing looked a good deal easier than it turned out to be. Half-waythrough, a
t the narrowest point and most abrupt curve, Pepemisunderstood directions and pulled hard on the bow-rope, when he shouldhave let it slack.

  The boat swung in, nearly smashing Ken against the bank, and thesweeping current began to swell dangerously near the gunwale.

  "Let go! Let go!" yelled Ken. "George, make him let go!"

  But George, who was trying to get the rope out of Pepe's muscular hands,suddenly made a dive for his rifle.

  "Deer! deer!" he cried, hurriedly throwing a shell into the chamber. Heshot downstream, and Ken, looking that way, saw several deer under thefirs on a rocky flat. George shot three more times, and the bulletswent "spinging" into the trees. The deer bounded out of sight.

  When Ken turned again, water was roaring into the boat. He was beingpressed harder into the bank, and he saw disaster ahead.

  "Loosen the rope--tell him, George," yelled Ken.

  Pepe only pulled the harder.

  "Quick, or we're ruined," cried Ken.

  George shouted in Spanish, and Pepe promptly dropped the rope in thewater. That was the worst thing he could have done.

  "Grab the rope!" ordered Ken, wildly. "Grab the bow! Don't let it swingout! Hal!"

  Before either boy could reach it the bow swung out into the current.Ken was not only helpless, but in a dangerous position. He struggled toget out from where the swinging stern was wedging him into the bank, butcould not budge. Fearing that all the outfit would be lost in theriver, he held on to the boat and called for some one to catch the rope.

  George pushed Pepe head first into the swift current. Pepe came up,caught the rope, and then went under again. The boat swung round and,now half full of water, got away from Ken. It gathered headway. Kenleaped out on the ledge and ran along with the boat. It careened roundthe bad curve and shot down-stream. Pepe was still under water.

  "He's drowned! He's drowned!" cried George.

  Hal took a header right off the ledge, came up, and swam with a fewsharp strokes to the drifting boat. He gained the bow, grasped it, andthen pulled on the rope.

  Ken had a sickening feeling that Pepe might be drowned. Suddenly Pepeappeared like a brown porpoise. He was touching bottom in places andholding back on the rope. Then the current rolled him over and over. Theboat drifted back of a rocky point into shallow water. Hal gave a haulthat helped to swing it out of the dangerous current. Then Pepe came up,and he, too, pulled hard. Just as Ken plunged in the boat sank in twofeet of water. Ken's grip, containing camera, films, and otherperishable goods, was on top, and he got it just in time. He threw itout on the rocks. Then together the boys lifted the boat and hauled thebow well up on the shore.

  "Pretty lucky!" exclaimed Ken, as he flopped down.

  "Doggone it!" yelled Hal, suddenly. And he dove for the boat, andsplashed round in the water under his seat, to bring forth a very limpand drenched little racoon.

  "Good! he's all right," said Ken.

  Pepe said "Mucho malo," and pointed to his shins, which bore severallarge bumps from contact with the rocks in the channel.

  "I should say mucha malo," growled George.

  He jerked open his grip, and, throwing out articles of wet clothing--forwhich he had no concern--he gazed in dismay at his whole store ofcigarettes wet by the water.

  "So that's all you care for," said Ken, severely. "Young man, I'll havesomething to say to you presently. All hands now to unpack the boat."

  Fortunately nothing had been carried away. That part of the supplieswhich would have been affected by water was packed in tin cases, and sosuffered no damage. The ammunition was waterproof. Ken's Parkerhammerless and his 351 automatic rifle were full of water, and so wereGeorge's guns and Hal's. While they took their weapons apart, wipedthem, and laid them in the sun, Pepe spread out the rest of the thingsand then baled out the boat. The sun was so hot that everything driedquickly and was not any the worse for the wetting. The boys lostscarcely an hour by the accident. Before the start Ken took George andPepe to task, and when he finished they were both very sober and quiet.

  Ken observed, however, that by the time they had run the next rapid theywere enjoying themselves again. Then came a long succession of rapidswhich Ken shot without anything approaching a mishap. When they driftedinto the level stretch Pepe relieved him at the oars. They glideddown-stream under the drooping bamboo, under the silken streamers ofsilvery moss, under the dark, cool bowers of matted vine and blossomingcreepers. And as they passed this time the jungle silence awoke to thecrack of George's .22 and the discordant cry of river fowl. Ken's gunswere both at hand, and the rifle was loaded, but he did not use either.He contented himself with snapping a picture here and there and watchingthe bamboo thickets and the mouths of the little dry ravines.

  That ride was again so interesting, so full of sound and action andcolor, that it seemed a very short one. The murmur of the water on therocks told Ken that it was time to change seats with Pepe. They drifteddown two short rapids, and then came to the gravelly channels betweenthe islands noted on the way up. The water was shallow down theserippling channels; and, fearing they might strike a stone, Ken tumbledout over the bow and, wading slowly, let the boat down to still wateragain. He was about to get in when he espied what he thought was analligator lying along a log near the river. He pointed it out to Pepe.

  That worthy yelled gleefully in Mexican, and reached for his _machete_.

  "Iguana!" exclaimed George. "I've heard it's good to eat."

  The reptile had a body about four feet long and a very long tail. Itscolor was a steely blue-black on top, and it had a blunt, rounded head.

  Pepe slipped out of the boat and began to wade ashore. When the iguanaraised itself on short, stumpy legs George shot at it, and missed, asusual. But he effectually frightened the reptile, which started toclimb the bank with much nimbleness. Pepe began to run, brandishing hislong _machete_. George plunged into the water in hot pursuit, and thenHal yielded to the call of the chase. Pepe reached the iguana before itgot up the bank, aimed a mighty blow with his _machete_, and wouldsurely have cut the reptile in two pieces if the blade had not caught onan overhanging branch. Then Pepe fell up the bank and barely graspedthe tail of the iguana. Pepe hauled back, and Pepe was powerful. Thefrantic creature dug its feet in the clay-bank and held on for dearlife. But Pepe was too strong. He jerked the iguana down and flung itsquare upon George, who had begun to climb the bank.

  George uttered an awful yell, as if he expected to be torn asunder, androlled down, with the reptile on top of him. Ken saw that it was asbadly frightened as George. But Hal did not see this. And he happenedto have gained a little sand-bar below the bank, in which direction theiguana started with wonderful celerity. Then Hal made a jump that Kenbelieved was a record.

  Remarkably awkward as that iguana was, he could surely cover ground withhis stumpy legs. Again he dashed up the bank. Pepe got close enoughonce more, and again he swung the _machete_. The blow cut off a pieceof the long tail, but the only effect this produced was to make theiguana run all the faster. It disappeared over the bank, with Pepescrambling close behind. Then followed a tremendous crashing in the drythickets, after which the iguana could be heard rattling and tearingaway through the jungle. Pepe returned to the boat with the crestfallenboys, and he was much concerned over the failure to catch the biglizard, which he said made fine eating.

  "What next?" asked George, ruefully, and at that the boys all laughed.

  "The fun is we don't have any idea what's coming off," said Hal.

  "Boys, if you brave hunters had thought to throw a little salt on thatlizard's tail you might have caught him," added Ken.

  Presently Pepe espied another iguana in the forks of a tree, and herowed ashore. This lizard was only a small one, not over two feet inlength, but he created some excitement among the boys. George wantedhim to eat, and Hal wanted the skin for a specimen, and Ken wanted tosee what the lizard looked like close at hand. So they all clamored forPepe to use caution and to
be quick.

  When Pepe started up the tree the iguana came down on the other side,quick as a squirrel. Then they had a race round the trunk until Pepeended it with a well-directed blow from his _machete_.

  Hal began to skin the iguana.

  "Ken, I'm going to have trouble preserving specimens in this hot place,"he said.

  "Salt and alum will do the trick. Remember what old Hiram used to say,"replied Ken.

  Shortly after that the boat passed the scene of the first camp, and thendrifted under the railroad bridge.

  Hal and George, and Pepe too, looked as if they were occupied with thesame thought troubling Ken--that once beyond the bridge they wouldplunge into the jungle wilderness from which there could be no turningback.

 
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