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Title: Ken Ward in the Jungle
Author: Zane Grey
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Ken Ward in the Jungle
Author: Zane Grey

First published 1912.



CONTENTS

I.     The Prize
II.    The Home of the Tarpon
III.   An Indian Boatman
IV.    At the Jungle River
V.     The First Camp
VI.    Wilderness Life
VII.   Running the Rapids
VIII.  The First Tiger-cat
IX.    In the White Water
X.     Lost!
XI.    An Army of Snakes
XII.   Catching Strange Fish
XIII.  A Turkey-hunt
XIV.   A Fight with a Jaguar
XV.    The Vicious Garrapatoes
XVI.   Field Work of a Naturalist
XVII.  A Mixed-up Tiger-hunt
XVIII. Watching a Runway
XIX.   Adventures with Crocodiles
XX.    Treed by Wild Pigs
XXI.   The Leaping Tarpon
XXII.  Stricken Down
XXIII. Out of the Jungle


* * * * *



I

THE PRIZE


"What a change from the Arizona desert!"

The words broke from the lips of Ken Ward as he leaned from the
window of the train which was bearing his brother and himself over
the plateau to Tampico in Tamaulipas, the southeastern state of
Mexico. He had caught sight of a river leaping out between heavily
wooded slopes and plunging down in the most beautiful waterfall he
had ever seen.

"Look, Hal," he cried.

The first fall was a long white streak, ending in a dark pool; below
came cascade after cascade, fall after fall, some wide, others
narrow, and all white and green against the yellow rock. Then the
train curved round a spur of the mountain, descended to a level, to
be lost in a luxuriance of jungle growth.

It was indeed a change for Ken Ward, young forester, pitcher of the
varsity nine at school, and hunter of lions in the Arizona canyons. Here
he was entering the jungle of the tropics. The rifles and the camp
outfit on the seat beside his brother Hal and himself spoke of coming
adventures. Before them lay an unknown wilderness--the semi-tropical
jungle. And the future was to show that the mystery of the jungle was
stranger even than their imaginings.

It was not love of adventure alone or interest in the strange new
forest growths that had drawn Ken to the jungle. His uncle, the one
who had gotten Ken letters from the Forestry Department at
Washington, had been proud of Ken's Arizona achievements. This
uncle was a member of the American Geographical Society and a fellow
of the New York Museum of Natural History. He wanted Ken to try his
hand at field work in the jungle of Mexico, and if that was
successful, then to explore the ruined cities of wild Yucatan. If
Ken made good as an explorer his reward was to be a trip to
Equatorial Africa after big game. And of course that trip meant
opportunity to see England and France, and, what meant more to Ken,
a chance to see the great forests of Germany, where forestry had
been carried on for three hundred years.

In spite of the fact that the inducement was irresistible, and that
Ken's father was as proud and eager as Ken's uncle to have him make
a name for himself, and that Hal would be allowed to go with him,
Ken had hesitated. There was the responsibility for Hal and the
absolute certainty that Hal could not keep out of mischief. Still
Ken simply could not have gone to Mexico leaving his brother at home
broken-hearted.

At last the thing had been decided. It was Hal's ambition to be a
naturalist and to collect specimens, and the uncle had held out possible
recognition from the Smithsonian Institution at Washington. Perhaps he
might find a new variety of some animal to which the scientists would
attach his name. Then the lad was passionately eager to see Ken win that
trip to Africa. There had been much study of maps and books of travel,
science, and natural history. There had been the most careful
instruction and equipment for semi-tropical camp life. The uncle had
given Ken valuable lessons in map-drawing, in estimating distance and
topography, and he had indicated any one of several rivers in the jungle
belt of Mexico. Traversing one hundred miles of unknown jungle river,
with intelligent observation and accurate reports, would win the prize
for Ken Ward. Now the race was on. Would Ken win?

Presently the train crossed a bridge. Ken Ward had a brief glance
at clear green water, at great cypress-trees, gray and graceful with
long, silvery, waving moss, and at the tangled, colorful banks. A
water-fowl black as coal, with white-crested wings, skimmed the
water in swift wild flight, to disappear up the shady river-lane.
Then the train clattered on, and, a mile or more beyond the bridge,
stopped at a station called Valles. In the distance could be seen
the thatched palm-leaf huts and red-tiled roofs of a hamlet.

The boys got out to stretch their legs. The warm, sweet, balmy air
was a new and novel thing to them. They strolled up and down the
gravel walk, watching the natives. Hal said he rather liked the
looks of their brown bare feet and the thin cotton trousers and
shirts, but he fancied the enormous sombreros were too heavy and
unwieldy. Ken spoke to several pleasant-faced Mexicans, each of
whom replied: "No sabe, Señor."

The ticket agent at the station was an American, and from the way he
smiled and spoke Ken knew he was more than glad to see one of his
own kind. So, after Ken had replied to many questions about the
States, he began to ask some of his own.

"What's the name of the waterfall we passed?"

"Micas Falls," replied the agent.

"And the river?"

"It's called the Santa Rosa."

"Where does it go?"

The agent did not know, except that it disappeared in the jungle.
Southward the country was wild. The villages were few and all along
the railroad; and at Valles the river swung away to the southwest.

"But it must flow into the Panuco River," said Ken. He had studied
maps of Mexico and had learned all that it was possible to learn
before he undertook the journey.

"Why, yes, it must find the Panuco somewhere down over the
mountain," answered the agent.

"Then there are rapids in this little river?" asked Ken, in growing
interest.

"Well, I guess. It's all rapids."

"How far to Tampico by rail?" went on Ken.

"Something over a hundred miles."

"Any game in the jungle hereabouts--or along the Santa Rosa?"
continued Ken.

The man laughed, and laughed in such a way that Ken did not need his
assertion that it was not safe to go into the jungle.

Whereupon Ken Ward became so thoughtful that he did not hear the
talk that followed between the agent and Hal. The engine bell
roused him into action, and with Hal he hurried back to their seats.
And then the train sped on. But the beauty of Micas Falls and the
wildness of the Santa Rosa remained with Ken. Where did that river
go? How many waterfalls and rapids did it have? What teeming life
must be along its rich banks! It haunted Ken. He wanted to learn
the mystery of the jungle. There was the same longing which had
gotten him into the wild adventures in Penetier Forest and the Grand
Canyon country of Arizona. And all at once flashed over him the
thought that here was the jungle river for him to explore.

"Why, that's the very thing," he said, thinking aloud.

"What's wrong with you," asked Hal, "talking to yourself that way?"

Ken did not explain. The train clattered between green walls of
jungle, and occasionally stopped at a station. But the thought of
the jungle haunted him until the train arrived at Tampico.

Ken had the name of an American hotel, and that was all he knew
about Tampico. The station was crowded with natives. Man after man
accosted the boys, jabbering excitedly in Mexican. Some of these
showed brass badges bearing a number and the word Cargodore.

"Hal, I believe these fellows are porters or baggage-men," said Ken.
And he showed his trunk check to one of them. The fellow jerked it
out of Ken's hand and ran off. The boys ran after him. They were
relieved to see him enter a shed full of baggage. And they were
amazed to see him kneel down and take their trunk on his back. It
was a big trunk and heavy. The man was small and light.

"It'll smash him!" cried Hal.

But the little cargodore walked off with the trunk on his back.
Then Ken and Hal saw other cargodores packing trunks. The boys kept
close to their man and used their eyes with exceeding interest. The
sun was setting, and the square, colored buildings looked as if they
were in a picture of Spain.

"Look at the boats--canoes!" cried Hal, as they crossed a canal.

Ken saw long narrow canoes that had been hollowed out from straight
tree-trunks. They were of every size, and some of the paddles were
enormous. Crowds of natives were jabbering and jostling each other
at a rude wharf.

"Look back," called Hal, who seemed to have a hundred eyes.

Ken saw a wide, beautiful river, shining red in the sunset. Palm-trees
on the distant shore showed black against the horizon.

"Hal, that's the Panuco. What a river!"

"Makes the Susquehanna look like a creek," was Hal's comment.

The cargodore led the boys through a plaza, down a narrow street to
the hotel. Here they were made to feel at home. The proprietor was
a kindly American. The hotel was crowded, and many of the guests
were Englishmen there for the tarpon-fishing, with sportsmen from
the States, and settlers coming in to take up new lands. It was
pleasant for Ken and Hal to hear their own language once more.
After dinner they sallied forth to see the town. But the narrow
dark streets and the blanketed natives stealing silently along were
not particularly inviting. The boys got no farther than the plaza,
where they sat down on a bench. It was wholly different from any
American town. Ken suspected that Hal was getting homesick, for the
boy was quiet and inactive.

"I don't like this place," said Hal. "What'd you ever want to drag
me way down here for?"

"Humph! drag you? Say, you pestered the life out of me, and
bothered Dad till he was mad, and worried mother sick to let you
come on this trip."

Hal hung his head.

"Now, you're not going to show a streak of yellow?" asked Ken. He
knew how to stir his brother.

Hal rose to the attack and scornfully repudiated the insinuation.
Ken replied that they were in a new country and must not reach
conclusions too hastily.

"I liked it back up there at the little village where we saw the
green river and the big trees with the gray streamers on them," said
Hal.

"Well, I liked that myself," rejoined Ken. "I'd like to go back
there and put a boat in the river and come all the way here."

Ken had almost unconsciously expressed the thought that had been
forming in his mind. Hal turned slowly and looked at his brother.

"Ken, that'd be great--that's what we came for!"

"I should say so," replied Ken.

"Well?" asked Hal, simply.

That question annoyed Ken. Had he not come south to go into the
jungle? Had he come with any intention of shirking the danger of a
wild trip? There was a subtle flattery in Hal's question.

"That Santa Rosa River runs through the jungle," went on Hal. "It
flows into the Panuco somewhere. You know we figured out on the map
that the Panuco's the only big river in this jungle. That's all we
want to know. And, Ken, you know you're a born boatman. Why, look
at the rapids we've shot on the Susquehanna. Remember that trip we
came down the Juniata? The water was high, too. Ken, you can take
a boat down that Santa Rosa!"

"By George! I believe I can," exclaimed Ken, and he thrilled at the
thought.

"Ken, let's go. You'll win the prize, and I'll get specimens.
Think what we'd have to tell Jim Williams and Dick Leslie when we go
West next summer!"

"Oh, Hal, I know--but this idea of a trip seems too wild."

"Maybe it wouldn't be so wild."

In all fairness Ken could not deny this, so he kept silent.

"Ken, listen," went on Hal, and now he was quite cool. "If we'd
promised the Governor not to take a wild trip I wouldn't say another
word. But we're absolutely free."

"That's why we ought to be more careful. Dad trusts me."

"He trusts you because he knows you can take care of yourself, and
me, too. You're a wonder, Ken. Why, if you once made up your mind,
you'd make that Santa Rosa River look like a canal."

Ken began to fear that he would not be proof against the haunting
call of that jungle river and the flattering persuasion of his
brother and the ever-present ambition to show his uncle what he
could do.

"Hal, if I didn't have you with me I'd already have made up my mind
to tackle this river."

That appeared to insult Hal.

"All I've got to say is I'd be a help to you--not a drag," he said,
with some warmth.

"You're always a help, Hal. I can't say anything against your
willingness. But you know your weakness. By George! you made
trouble enough for me in Arizona. On a trip such as this you'd
drive me crazy."

"Ken, I won't make any rash promises. I don't want to queer myself
with you. But I'm all right."

"Look here, Hal; let's wait. We've only got to Tampico. Maybe such
a trip is impracticable--impossible. Let's find out more about the
country."

Hal appeared to take this in good spirit. The boys returned to the
hotel and went to bed. Hal promptly fell asleep. But Ken Ward lay
awake a long time thinking of the green Santa Rosa, with its
magnificent moss-festooned cypresses. And when he did go to sleep
it was to dream of the beautiful waterfowl with the white-crested
wings, and he was following it on its wild flight down the dark,
mysterious river-trail into the jungle.



II

THE HOME OF THE TARPON


Hal's homesickness might never have been in evidence at all, to
judge from the way the boy, awakening at dawn, began to talk about
the Santa Rosa trip.

"Well," said Ken, as he rolled out of bed, "I guess we're in for
it."

"Ken, will we go?" asked Hal, eagerly.

"I'm on the fence."

"But you're leaning on the jungle side?"

"Yes, kid--I'm slipping."

Hal opened his lips to let out a regular Hiram Bent yell, when Ken
clapped a hand over his mouth.

"Hold on--we're in the hotel yet."

It took the brothers long to dress, because they could not keep away
from the window. The sun was rising in rosy glory over misty
lagoons. Clouds of creamy mist rolled above the broad Panuco. Wild
ducks were flying low. The tiled roofs of the stone houses gleamed
brightly, and the palm-trees glistened with dew. The soft breeze
that blew in was warm, sweet, and fragrant.

After breakfast the boys went out to the front and found the hotel
lobby full of fishermen and their native boatmen. It was an
interesting sight, as well as a surprise, for Ken and Hal did not
know that Tampico was as famous for fishing as it was for hunting.
The huge rods and reels amazed them.

"What kind of fish do these fellows fish for?" asked Hal.

Ken was well enough acquainted with sport to know something about
tarpon, but he had never seen one of the great silver fish. And he
was speechless when Hal led him into a room upon the walls of which
were mounted specimens of tarpon from six to seven feet in length
and half as wide as a door.

"Say, Ken! We've come to the right place. Those fishermen are all
going out to fish for such whales as these here."

"Hal, we never saw a big fish before," said Ken. "And before we
leave Tampico we'll know what it means to hook tarpon."

"I'm with you," replied Hal, gazing doubtfully and wonderingly at a
fish almost twice as big as himself.

Then Ken, being a practical student of fishing, as of other kinds of
sport, began to stroll round the lobby with an intent to learn. He
closely scrutinized the tackle. And he found that the bait used was
a white mullet six to ten inches long, a little fish which resembled
the chub. Ken did not like the long, cruel gaff which seemed a
necessary adjunct to each outfit of tackle, and he vowed that in his
fishing for tarpon he would dispense with it.

Ken was not backward about asking questions, and he learned that
Tampico, during the winter months, was a rendezvous for sportsmen
from all over the world. For the most part, they came to catch the
leaping tarpon; the shooting along the Panuco, however, was as well
worth while as the fishing. But Ken could not learn anything about
the Santa Rosa River. The tierra caliente, or hot belt, along the
curve of the Gulf was intersected by small streams, many of them
unknown and unnamed. The Panuco swung round to the west and had its
source somewhere up in the mountains. Ken decided that the Santa
Rosa was one of its headwaters. Valles lay up on the first swell of
higher ground, and was distant from Tampico some six hours by train.
So, reckoning with the meandering course of jungle streams, Ken
calculated he would have something like one hundred and seventy-five
miles to travel by water from Valles to Tampico. There were Indian
huts strung along the Panuco River, and fifty miles inland a village
named Panuco. What lay between Panuco and Valles, up over the wild
steppes of that jungle, Ken Ward could only conjecture.

Presently he came upon Hal in conversation with an American boy, who
at once volunteered to show them around. So they set out, and were
soon becoming well acquainted. Their guide said he was from Kansas;
had been working in the railroad offices for two years; and was now
taking a vacation. His name was George Alling. Under his guidance
the boys spent several interesting hours going about the city.
During this walk Hal showed his first tendency to revert to his
natural bent of mind. Not for long could Hal Ward exist without
making trouble for something. In this case it was buzzards, of
which the streets of Tampico were full. In fact, George explained,
the buzzards were the only street-cleaning department in the town.
They were as tame as tame turkeys, and Hal could not resist the
desire to chase them. And he could be made to stop only after a
white-helmeted officer had threatened him. George explained further
that although Tampico had no game-laws it protected these
buzzard-scavengers of the streets.

The market-house at the canal wharf was one place where Ken thought Hal
would forget himself in the bustle and din and color. All was so strange
and new. Indeed, for a time Hal appeared to be absorbed in his
surroundings, but when he came to a stall where a man had parrots and
raccoons and small deer, and three little yellow, black-spotted
tiger-cats, as George called them, then once more Ken had to take Hal in
tow. Outside along the wharf were moored a hundred or more canoes of
manifold variety. All had been hewn from solid tree-trunks. Some were
long, slender, graceful, pretty to look at, and easy to handle in
shallow lagoons, but Ken thought them too heavy and cumbersome for fast
water. Happening just then to remember Micas Falls, Ken had a momentary
chill and a check to his enthusiasm for the jungle trip. What if he
encountered, in coming down the Santa Rosa, some such series of cascades
as those which made Micas Falls!

It was about noon when George led the boys out to the banks of the
broad Panuco. Both Hal and Ken were suffering from the heat. They
had removed their coats, and were now very glad to rest in the
shade.

"This is a nice cool day," said George, and he looked cool.

"We've got on our heavy clothes, and this tropic sun is new to us,"
replied Ken. "Say, Hal--"

A crash in the water near the shore interrupted Ken.

"Was that a rhinoceros?" inquired Hal.

"Savalo," said George.

"What's that?"

"Silver king. A tarpon. Look around and you'll see one break
water. There are some fishermen trolling down-stream. Watch.
Maybe one will hook a fish presently. Then you'll see some
jumping."

It was cool in the shade, as the brothers soon discovered, and they
spent a delightful hour watching the river and the wild fowl and the
tarpon. Ken and Hal were always lucky. Things happened for their
benefit and pleasure. Not only did they see many tarpon swirl like
bars of silver on the water, but a fisherman hooked one of the great
fish not fifty yards from where the boys sat. And they held their
breath, and with starting eyes watched the marvelous leaps and
dashes of the tarpon till, as he shot up in a last mighty effort,
wagging his head, slapping his huge gills, and flinging the hook
like a bullet, he plunged back free.

"Nine out of ten get away," remarked George.

"Did you ever catch one?" asked Hal.

"Sure."

"Hal, I've got to have some of this fishing," said Ken. "But if we
start at it now--would we ever get that jungle trip?"

"Oh, Ken, you've made up your mind to go!" exclaimed Hal, in glee.

"No, I haven't," protested Ken.

"Yes, you have," declared Hal. "I know you." And the whoop that he
had suppressed in the hotel he now let out with good measure.

Naturally George was interested, and at his inquiry Ken told him the
idea for the Santa Rosa trip.

"Take me along," said George. There was a note of American spirit
in his voice, a laugh on his lips, and a flash in his eyes that made
Ken look at him attentively. He was a slim youth, not much Hal's
senior, and Ken thought if ever a boy had been fashioned to be a
boon comrade of Hal Ward this George Alling was the boy.

"What do you think of the trip?" inquired Ken, curiously.

"Fine. We'll have some fun. We'll get a boat and a mozo--"

"What's a mozo?"

"A native boatman."

"That's a good idea. I hadn't thought of a boatman to help row.
But the boat is the particular thing. I wouldn't risk a trip in one
of those canoes."

"Come on, I'll find a boat," said George.

And before he knew it George and Hal were leading him back from the
river. George led him down narrow lanes, between painted stone
houses and iron-barred windows, till they reached the canal. They
entered a yard where buzzards, goats, and razor-back pigs were
contesting over the scavenger rights. George went into a boat-house
and pointed out a long, light, wide skiff with a flat bottom. Ken
did not need George's praise, or the shining light in Hal's eyes, or
the boat-keeper's importunities to make him eager to try this
particular boat. Ken Ward knew a boat when he saw one. He jumped
in, shoved it out, rowed up the canal, pulled and turned, backed
water, and tried every stroke he knew. Then he rested on the oars
and whistled. Hal's shout of delight made him stop whistling.
Those two boys would have him started on the trip if he did not look
sharp.

"It's a dandy boat," said Ken.

"Only a peso a day, Ken," went on Hal. "One dollar Mex--fifty cents
in our money. Quick, Ken, hire it before somebody else gets it."

"Sure I'll hire the boat," replied Ken; "but Hal, it's not for that
Santa Rosa trip. We'll have to forget that."

"Forget your grandmother!" cried Hal. And then it was plain that he
tried valiantly to control himself, to hide his joy, to pretend to
agree with Ken's ultimatum.

Ken had a feeling that his brother knew him perfectly, and he was
divided between anger and amusement. They returned to the hotel and
lounged in the lobby. The proprietor was talking with some
Americans, and as he now appeared to be at leisure he introduced the
brothers and made himself agreeable. Moreover, he knew George
Alling well. They began to chat, and Ken was considerably annoyed
to hear George calmly state that he and his new-found friends
intended to send a boat up to Valles and come down an unknown jungle
river.

The proprietor laughed, and, though the laugh was not unpleasant,
somehow it nettled Ken Ward.

"Why not go?" he asked, quietly, and he looked at the hotel man.

"My boy, you can't undertake any trip like that."

"Why not?" persisted Ken. "Is there any law here to prevent our
going into the jungle?"

"There's no law. No one could stop you. But, my lad, what's the
sense of taking such a fool trip? The river here is full of tarpon
right now. There are millions of ducks and geese on the lagoons.
You can shoot deer and wild turkey right on the edge of town. If
you want tiger and javelin, go out to one of the ranches where they
have dogs to hunt with, where you'll have a chance for your life.
These tigers and boars will kill a man. There's all the sport any
one wants right close to Tampico."

"I don't see how all that makes a reason why we shouldn't come down
the Santa Rosa," replied Ken. "We want to explore--map the river."

The hotel man seemed nettled in return.

"You're only kids. It'd be crazy to start out on that wild trip."

It was on Ken's lips to mention a few of the adventures which he
believed justly gave him a right to have pride and confidence in his
ability. But he forbore.

"It's a fool trip," continued the proprietor. "You don't know this
river. You don't know where you'll come out. It's wild up in that
jungle. I've hunted up at Valles, and no native I ever met would go
a mile from the village. If you take a mozo he'll get soaked with
canya. He'll stick a knife in you or run off and leave you when you
most need help. Nobody ever explored that river. It'll likely be
full of swamps, sandbars, bogs. You'd get fever. Then the
crocodiles, the boars, the bats, the snakes, the tigers! Why, if
you could face these you'd still have the ticks--the worst of all.
The ticks would drive men crazy, let alone boys. It's no
undertaking for a boy."

The mention of all these dangers would have tipped the balance for
Ken in favor of the Santa Rosa trip, even if the hint of his
callowness had not roused his spirit.

"Thank you. I'm sure you mean kindly," said Ken. "But I'm going to
Valles and I'll come down that jungle river."



III

AN INDIAN BOATMAN


The moment the decision was made Ken felt both sorry and glad. He
got the excited boys outside away from the critical and anxious
proprietor. And Ken decided it was incumbent upon him to adopt a
serious and responsible manner, which he was far from feeling. So
he tried to be as cool as Hiram Bent, with a fatherly interest in
the two wild boys who were to accompany him down the Santa Rosa.

"Now, George, steer us around till we find a mozo," said Ken. "Then
well buy an outfit and get started on this trip before you can say
Jack Robinson."

All the mozos the boys interviewed were eager to get work; however,
when made acquainted with the nature of the trip they refused point
blank.

"Tigre!" exclaimed one.

"Javelin!" exclaimed another.

The big spotted jaguar of the jungle and the wild boar, or peccary,
were held in much dread by the natives.

"These natives will climb a tree at sight of a tiger or pig," said
George. "For my part I'm afraid of the garrapatoes and the
pinilius."

"What're they?" asked Hal.

"Ticks--jungle ticks. Just wait till you make their acquaintance."

Finally the boys met a mozo named Pepe, who had often rowed a boat
for George. Pepe looked sadly in need of a job; still he did not
ask for it. George said that Pepe had been one of the best boatmen
on the river until canya, the fiery white liquor to which the
natives were addicted, had ruined his reputation. Pepe wore an old
sombrero, a cotton shirt and sash, and ragged trousers. He was
barefooted. Ken noted the set of his muscular neck, his brawny
shoulders and arms, and appreciated the years of rowing that had
developed them. But Pepe's haggard face, deadened eyes, and
listless manner gave Ken pause. Still, Ken reflected, there was
never any telling what a man might do, if approached right. Pepe's
dejection excited Ken's sympathy. So Ken clapped him on the
shoulder, and, with George acting as interpreter, offered Pepe work
for several weeks at three pesos a day. That was more than treble
the mozo's wage. Pepe nearly fell off the canal bridge, where he
was sitting, and a light as warm and bright as sunshine flashed into
his face.

"Si, Señor--Si, Señor," he began to jabber, and waved his brown
hands.

Ken suspected that Pepe needed a job and a little kind treatment.
He was sure of it when George said Pepe's wife and children were in
want. Somehow Ken conceived a liking for Pepe, and believed he
could trust him. He thought he knew how to deal with poor Pepe. So
he gave him money, told him to get a change of clothes and a pair of
shoes, and come to the hotel next day.

"He'll spend the money for canya, and not show up to-morrow," said
George.

"I don't know anything about your natives, but that fellow will
come," declared Ken.

It appeared that the whole American colony in Tampico had been
acquainted with Ken Ward's project, and made a business to waylay
the boys at each corner. They called the trip a wild-goose chase.
They declared it was a dime-novel idea, and could hardly take Ken
seriously. They mingled astonishment with amusement and concern.
They advised Ken not to go, and declared they would not let him go.
Over and over again the boys were assured of the peril from ticks,
bats, boars, crocodiles, snakes, tigers, and fevers.

"That's what I'm taking the trip for," snapped Ken, driven to
desperation by all this nagging.

"Well, young man, I admire your nerve," concluded the hotel man. "If
you're determined to go, we can't stop you. And there's some things we
would like you to find out for us. How far do tarpon run up the Panuco
River? Do they spawn up there? How big are the new-born fish? I'll
furnish you with tackle and preserved mullet, for bait. We've always
wondered about how far tarpon go up into fresh water. Keep your eye open
for signs of oil. Also look at the timber. And be sure to make a map of
the river."

When it came to getting the boat shipped the boys met with more
obstacles. But for the friendly offices of a Texan, an employee of
the railroad, they would never have been able to convince the native
shipping agent that a boat was merchandise. The Texan arranged the
matter and got Ken a freight bill. He took an entirely different
view of Ken's enterprise, compared with that of other Americans, and
in a cool, drawling voice, which somehow reminded Ken of Jim
Williams, he said:

"Shore you-all will have the time of your lives. I worked at Valles
for a year. That jungle is full of game. I killed three big
tigers. You-all want to look out for those big yellow devils. One
in every three will jump for a man. There's nothing but shoot,
then. And the wild pigs are bad. They put me up a tree more than
once. I don't know much about the Santa Rosa. Its source is above
Micas Falls. Never heard where it goes. I know it's full of
crocodiles and rapids. Never saw a boat or a canoe at Valles. And
say--there are big black snakes in the jungle. Look out for them,
too. Shore you-all have sport a-comin'."

Ken thanked the Texan, and as he went on up-street, for all his
sober thoughtfulness, he was as eager as Hal or George. However,
his position as their guardian would not permit any show of
extravagant enthusiasm.

Ken bought blankets, cooking utensils, and supplies for three weeks.
There was not such a thing as a tent in Tampico. The best the boys
could get for a shelter was a long strip of canvas nine feet wide.

"That'll keep off the wet," said Ken, "but it won't keep out the
mosquitoes and things."

"Couldn't keep 'em out if we had six tents," replied George.

The remainder of that day the boys were busy packing the outfit.

Pepe presented himself at the hotel next morning an entirely
different person. He was clean-shaven, and no longer disheveled.
He wore a new sombrero, a white cotton shirt, a red sash, and blue
trousers. He carried a small bundle, a pair of shoes, and a long
machete. The dignity with which he approached before all the other
mozos was not lost upon Ken Ward. A sharp scrutiny satisfied him
that Pepe had not been drinking. Ken gave him several errands to
do. Then he ordered the outfit taken to the station in Pepe's
charge.

The boys went down early in the afternoon. It was the time when the
mozos were returning from the day's tarpon-fishing on the river, and
they, with the cargodores, streamed to and fro on the platform.
Pepe was there standing guard over Ken's outfit. He had lost his
fame among his old associates, and for long had been an outsider.
Here he was in charge of a pile of fine guns, fishing-tackle,
baggage, and supplies--a collection representing a fortune to him
and his simple class. He had been trusted with it. It was under
his eye. All his old associates passed by to see him there. That
was a great time for Pepe. He looked bright, alert, and supremely
happy. It would have fared ill with thieves or loafers who would
have made themselves free with any of the articles under his
watchful eye.

The train pulled out of Tampico at five o'clock, and Hal's "We're
off!" was expressive.

The railroad lay along the river-bank, and the broad Panuco was
rippling with the incoming tide. If Ken and Hal had not already
found George to be invaluable as a companion in this strange country
they would have discovered it then. For George could translate
Pepe's talk, and explain much that otherwise would have been dark to
the brothers. Wild ducks dotted the green surface, and spurts
showed where playful ravalo were breaking water. Great green-backed
tarpon rolled their silver sides against the little waves. White
cranes and blue herons stood like statues upon the reedy bars. Low
down over the opposite bank of the river a long line of wild geese
winged its way toward a shimmering lagoon. And against the gold and
crimson of the sunset sky a flight of wild fowl stood out in bold
black relief. The train crossed the Tamesi River and began to draw
away from the Panuco. On the right, wide marshes, gleaming purple
in the darkening light, led the eye far beyond to endless pale
lagoons. Birds of many kinds skimmed the weedy flats. George
pointed out a flock of aigrets, the beautiful wild fowl with the
priceless plumes. Then there was a string of pink flamingoes, tall,
grotesque, wading along with waddling stride, feeding with heads
under water.

"Great!" exclaimed Ken Ward.

"It's all so different from Arizona," said Hal.

At Tamos, twelve miles out of Tampico, the train entered the jungle.
Thereafter the boys could see nothing but the impenetrable green
walls that lined the track. At dusk the train reached a station
called Las Palmas, and then began to ascend the first step of the
mountain. The ascent was steep, and, when it was accomplished, Ken
looked down and decided that step of the mountain was between two
and three thousand feet high. The moon was in its first quarter,
and Ken, studying this tropical moon, found it large, radiant, and a
wonderful green-gold. It shed a soft luminous glow down upon the
sleeping, tangled web of jungle. It was new and strange to Ken, so
vastly different from barren desert or iron-ribbed canyon, and it
thrilled him with nameless charm.

The train once more entered jungle walls, and as the boys could not
see anything out of the windows they lay back in their seats and
waited for the ride to end. They were due at Valles at ten o'clock,
and the impatient Hal complained that they would never get there.
At length a sharp whistle from the engine caused Pepe to turn to the
boys with a smile.

"Valles," he said.

With rattle and clank the train came to a halt. Ken sent George and
Pepe out, and he and Hal hurriedly handed the luggage through the
open window. When the last piece had been passed into Pepe's big
hands the boys made a rush for the door, and jumped off as the train
started.

"Say, but it's dark," said Hal.

As the train with its lights passed out of sight Ken found himself
in what seemed a pitchy blackness. He could not see the boys. And
he felt a little cold sinking of his heart at the thought of such
black nights on an unknown jungle river.



IV

AT THE JUNGLE RIVER


Presently, as Ken's eyes became accustomed to the change, the
darkness gave place to pale moonlight. A crowd of chattering
natives, with wide sombreros on their heads and blankets over their
shoulders, moved round the little stone station. Visitors were rare
in Valles, as was manifested by the curiosity aroused by the boys
and the pile of luggage.

"Ask Pepe to find some kind of lodging for the night," said Ken to
George.

Pepe began to question the natives, and soon was lost in the crowd.
Awhile after, as Ken was making up his mind they might have to camp
on the station platform, a queer low 'bus drawn by six little mules
creaked up. Pepe jumped off the seat beside the driver, and began
to stow the luggage away in the 'bus. Then the boys piled in
behind, and were soon bowling along a white moonlit road. The soft
voices of natives greeted their passing.

Valles appeared to be about a mile from the station, and as they
entered the village Ken made out rows of thatched huts, and here and
there a more pretentious habitation of stone. At length the driver
halted before a rambling house, partly stone and partly thatch.
There were no lights; in fact, Ken did not see a light in the
village. George told the boys to take what luggage each could carry
and follow the guide. Inside the house it was as dark as a dungeon.
The boys bumped into things and fell over each other trying to keep
close to the barefooted and mysterious guide. Finally they climbed
to a kind of loft, where the moonlight streamed in at the open
sides.

"What do you think of this?" panted Hal, who had struggled with a
heavy load of luggage. Pepe and the guide went down to fetch up the
remainder of the outfit. Ken thought it best to stand still until
he knew just where he was. But Hal and George began moving about in
the loft. It was very large and gloomy, and seemed open, yet full
of objects. Hal jostled into something which creaked and fell with
a crash. Then followed a yell, a jabbering of a frightened native,
and a scuffling about.

"Hal, what'd you do?" called Ken, severely.

"You can search me," replied Hal Ward. "One thing--I busted my
shin."

"He knocked over a bed with some one sleeping in it," said George.

Pepe arrived in the loft then and soon soothed the injured feelings
of the native who had been so rudely disturbed. He then led the
boys to their cots, which were no more than heavy strips of canvas
stretched over tall frameworks. They appeared to be enormously high
for beds. Ken's was as high as his head, and Ken was tall for his
age.

"Say, I'll never get up into this thing," burst out Hal. "These
people must be afraid to sleep near the floor. George, why are
these cots so high?"

"I reckon to keep the pigs and dogs and all that from sleeping with
the natives," answered George. "Besides, the higher you sleep in
Mexico the farther you get from creeping, crawling things."

Ken had been of half a mind to sleep on the floor, but George's
remark had persuaded him to risk the lofty cot. It was most awkward
to climb into. Ken tried several times without success, and once he
just escaped a fall. By dint of muscle and a good vault he finally
landed in the center of his canvas. From there he listened to his
more unfortunate comrades. Pepe got into his without much
difficulty. George, however, in climbing up, on about the fifth
attempt swung over too hard and rolled off on the other side. The
thump he made when he dropped jarred the whole loft. From the
various growls out of the darkness it developed that the loft was
full of sleepers, who were not pleased at this invasion. Then Hal's
cot collapsed, and went down with a crash. And Hal sat on the
flattened thing and laughed.

"Mucho malo," Pepe said, and he laughed, too. Then he had to get
out and put up Hal's trestle bed. Hal once again went to climbing
up the framework, and this time, with Pepe's aid, managed to
surmount it.

"George, what does Pepe mean by mucho malo?" asked Hal.

"Bad--very much bad," replied George.

"Nix--tell him nix. This is fine," said Hal.

"Boys, if you don't want to sleep yourselves, shut up so the rest of
us can," ordered Ken.

He liked the sense of humor and the good fighting spirit of the
boys, and fancied they were the best attributes in comrades on a
wild trip. For a long time he heard a kind of shuddering sound,
which he imagined was Hal's cot quivering as the boy laughed. Then
absolute quiet prevailed, the boys slept, and Ken felt himself
drifting.

When he awakened the sun was shining through the holes in the
thatched roof. Pepe was up, and the other native sleepers were
gone. Ken and the boys descended from their perches without any
tumbles, had a breakfast that was palatable--although even George
could not name what they ate--and then were ready for the day.

Valles consisted of a few stone houses and many thatched huts of
bamboo and palm. There was only one street, and it was full of
pigs, dogs, and buzzards. The inhabitants manifested a kindly
interest and curiosity, which changed to consternation when they
learned of the boys' project. Pepe questioned many natives, and all
he could learn about the Santa Rosa was that there was an impassable
waterfall some few kilometers below Valles. Ken gritted his teeth
and said they would have to get past it. Pepe did not encounter a
man who had ever heard of the headwaters of the Panuco River. There
were only a few fields under cultivation around Valles, and they
were inclosed by impenetrable jungle. It seemed useless to try to
find out anything about the river. But Pepe's advisers in the
village told enough about tigre and javelin to make Hal's hair stand
on end, and George turn pale, and Ken himself wish they had not
come. It all gave Ken both a thrill and a shock.

There was not much conversation among the boys on the drive back to
the station. However, sight of the boat, which had come by freight,
stirred Ken with renewed spirit, and through him that was
communicated to the others.

The hardest task, so far, developed in the matter of transporting
boat and supplies out to the river. Ken had hoped to get a handcar
and haul the outfit on the track down to where the bridge crossed
the Santa Rosa. But there was no hand-car. Then came the
staggering information that there was no wagon which would carry the
boat, and then worse still in the fact that there was no road. This
discouraged Ken; nevertheless he had not the least idea of giving
up. He sent Pepe out to tell the natives there must be some way to
get the outfit to the river.

Finally Pepe found a fellow who had a cart. This fellow claimed he
knew a trail that went to a point from which it would be easy to
carry the boat to the river. Ken had Pepe hire the man at once.

"Bring on your old cart," said the irrepressible Hal.

That cart turned out to be a remarkable vehicle. It consisted of a
narrow body between enormously high wheels. A trio of little mules
was hitched to it. The driver willingly agreed to haul the boat and
outfit for one peso, but when he drove up to the platform to be
surrounded by neighbors, he suddenly discovered that he could not
possibly accommodate the boys. Patiently Pepe tried to persuade
him. No, the thing was impossible. He made no excuses, but he
looked mysterious.

"George, tell Pepe to offer him five pesos," said Ken.

Pepe came out bluntly with the inducement, and the driver began to
sweat. From the look of his eyes Ken fancied he had not earned so
much money in a year. Still he was cunning, and his whispering
neighbors lent him support. He had the only cart in the village,
and evidently it seemed that fortune had come to knock at least once
at his door. He shook his head.

Ken held up both hands with fingers spread. "Ten pesos," he said.

The driver, like a crazy man, began to jabber his consent.

The boys lifted the boat upon the cart, and tied it fast in front so
that the stern would not sag. Then they packed the rest of the
outfit inside.

Ken was surprised to see how easily the little mules trotted off
with such a big load. At the edge of the jungle he looked back
toward the station. The motley crowd of natives were watching,
making excited gestures, and all talking at once. The driver drove
into a narrow trail, which closed behind him. Pepe led on foot,
brushing aside the thick foliage. Ken drew a breath of relief as he
passed into the cool shade. The sun was very hot. Hal and George
brought up the rear, talking fast.

The trail was lined and overgrown with slender trees, standing very
close, making dense shade. Many birds, some of beautiful coloring,
flitted in the branches. In about an hour the driver entered a
little clearing where there were several thatched huts. Ken heard
the puffing of an engine, and, looking through the trees, he saw the
railroad and knew they had arrived at the pumping-station and the
bridge over the Santa Rosa.

Pepe lost no time in rounding up six natives to carry the boat.
They did not seem anxious to oblige Pepe, although they plainly
wanted the money he offered. The trouble was the boat, at which
they looked askance. As in the case with the driver, however, the
weight and clinking of added silver overcame their reluctance. They
easily lifted the boat upon their shoulders. And as they entered
the trail, making a strange procession in the close-bordering
foliage, they encountered two natives, who jumped and ran, yelling:
"La diable! La diable!"

"What ails those gazabos?" asked Hal.

"They're scared," replied George. "They thought the boat was the
devil."

If Ken needed any more than had already come to him about the
wildness of the Santa Rosa, he had it in the frightened cries and
bewilderment of these natives. They had never seen a boat. The
Santa Rosa was a beautiful wild river upon which boats were unknown.
Ken had not hoped for so much. And now that the die was cast he
faced the trip with tingling gladness.

"George and Hal, you stay behind to watch the outfit. Pepe and I
will carry what we can and follow the boat. I'll send back after
you," said Ken.

Then as he followed Pepe and the natives down the trail there was a
deep satisfaction within him. He heard the soft rush of water over
stones and the mourning of turtledoves. He rounded a little hill to
come abruptly upon the dense green mass of river foliage. Giant
cypress-trees, bearded with gray moss, fringed the banks. Through
the dark green of leaves Ken caught sight of light-green water.
Birds rose all about him. There were rustlings in the thick
underbrush and the whir of ducks. The natives penetrated the dark
shade and came out to an open, grassy point.

The Santa Rosa, glistening, green, swift, murmured at Ken's feet.
The natives dropped the boat into the water, and with Pepe went back
for the rest of the outfit. Ken looked up the shady lane of the
river and thought of the moment when he had crossed the bridge in
the train. Then, as much as he had longed to be there, he had not
dared to hope it. And here he was! How strange it was, just then,
to see a large black duck with white-crested wings sweep by as swift
as the wind! Ken had seen that wild fowl, or one of his kind, and
it had haunted him.



V

THE FIRST CAMP


In less than an hour all the outfit had been carried down to the
river, and the boys sat in the shade, cooling off, happily conscious
that they had made an auspicious start.

It took Ken only a moment to decide to make camp there and the next
day try to reach Micas Falls. The mountains appeared close at hand,
and were so lofty that, early in the afternoon as it was, the
westering sun hung over the blue summits. The notch where the Santa
Rosa cut through the range stood out clear, and at most it was not
more than eighteen miles distant. So Ken planned to spend a day
pulling up the river, and then to turn for the down-stream trip.

"Come, boys, let's make camp," said Ken.

He sent Pepe with his long machete into the brush to cut fire-wood.
Hal he set to making a stone fireplace, which work the boy rather
prided himself upon doing well. Ken got George to help him to put
up the strip of canvas. They stretched a rope between two trees,
threw the canvas over it, and pegged down the ends.

"Say, how're we going to sleep?" inquired Hal, suddenly.

"Sleep? Why, on our backs, of course," retorted Ken, who could read
Hal's mind.

"If we don't have some hot old times keeping things out of this
tent, I'm a lobster," said George, dubiously. "I'm going to sleep
in the middle."

"You're a brave boy, George," replied Ken.

"Me for between Ken and Pepe," added Hal.

"And you're twice as brave," said Ken. "I dare say Pepe and I will
be able to keep things from getting at you."

Just as Pepe came into camp staggering under a load of wood, a flock of
russet-colored ducks swung round the bend. They alighted near the shore
at a point opposite the camp. The way George and Hal made headers into
the pile of luggage for their guns gave Ken an inkling of what he might
expect from these lads. He groaned, and then he laughed. George came up
out of the luggage first, and he had a .22-caliber rifle, which he
quickly loaded and fired into the flock. He crippled one; the others
flew up-stream. Then George began to waste shells trying to kill the
crippled duck. Hal got into action with his .22. They bounced bullets
off the water all around the duck, but they could not hit it.

Pepe grew as excited as the boys, and he jumped into the boat and with a
long stick began to pole out into the stream. Ken had to caution George
and Hal to lower their guns and not shoot Pepe. Below camp and just
under the bridge the water ran into a shallow rift. The duck got onto
the current and went round the bend, with Pepe polling in pursuit and
George and Hal yelling along the shore. When they returned a little
later, they had the duck, which was of an unknown species to Ken. Pepe
had fallen overboard; George was wet to his knees; and, though Hal did
not show any marks of undue exertion, his eyes would have enlightened
any beholder. The fact was that they were glowing with the excitement of
the chase. It amused Ken. He felt that he had to try to stifle his own
enthusiasm. There had to be one old head in the party. But if he did
have qualms over the possibilities of the boys to worry him with their
probable escapades, he still felt happy at their boundless life and
spirit.

It was about the middle of the afternoon, and the heat had become
intense. Ken realized it doubly when he saw Pepe favoring the shade.
George and Hal were hot, but they appeared to be too supremely satisfied
with their surroundings to care about that.

During this hot spell, which lasted from three o'clock until five, there
was a quiet and a lack of life around camp that surprised Ken. It was
slumberland; even the insects seemed drowsy. Not a duck and scarcely a
bird passed by. Ken heard the mourning of turtle-doves, and was at once
struck with the singular deep, full tone. Several trains crossed the
bridge, and at intervals the engine at the pumping-tank puffed and
chugged. From time to time a native walked out upon the bridge to stare
long and curiously at the camp.

When the sun set behind the mountain a hard breeze swept down the river.
Ken did not know what to make of it, and at first thought there was
going to be a storm. Pepe explained that the wind blew that way every
day after sunset. For a while it tossed the willows, and waved the
Spaniard's-beard upon the cypresses. Then as suddenly as it had come it
died away, taking the heat with it.

Whereupon the boys began to get supper.

"George, do you know anything about this water?" asked Ken. "Is it
safe?"

George supposed it was all right, but he did not know. The matter of
water had bothered Ken more than any other thing in consideration of the
trip. This river-water was cool and clear; it apparently was safe. But
Ken decided not to take any chances, and to boil all the water used. All
at once George yelled, "Canvasbacks!" and made a dive for his gun. Ken
saw a flock of ducks swiftly winging flight up-stream.

"Hold on, George; don't shoot," called Ken. "Let's go a little slow at
the start."

George appeared to be disappointed, though he promptly obeyed.

Then the boys had supper, finding the russet duck much to their taste.
Ken made a note of Pepe's capacity, and was glad there were prospects of
plenty of meat. While they were eating, a group of natives gathered on
the bridge. Ken would not have liked to interpret their opinion of his
party from their actions.

Night came on almost before the boys were ready for it. They replenished
the camp-fire, and sat around it, looking into the red blaze and then
out into the flickering shadows. Ken thought the time propitious for a
little lecture he had to give the boys, and he remembered how old Hiram
Bent had talked to him and Hal that first night down under the great
black rim-wall of the Grand Canyon.

"Well, fellows," began Ken, "we're started, we're here, and the trip
looks great to me. Now, as I am responsible, I intend to be boss. I want
you boys to do what I tell you. I may make mistakes, but if I do I'll
take them on my shoulders. Let's try to make the trip a great success.
Let's be careful. We're not game-hogs. We'll not kill any more than we
can eat. I want you boys to be careful with your guns. Think all the
time where you're pointing them. And as to thinking, we'd do well to use
our heads all the time. We've no idea what we're going up against in
this jungle."

Both boys listened to Ken with attention and respect, but they did not
bind themselves by any promises.

Ken had got out the mosquito-netting, expecting any moment to find it
very serviceable; however, to his surprise it was not needed. When it
came time to go to bed, Hal and George did not forget to slip in between
Pepe and Ken. The open-sided tent might keep off rain or dew, but for
all the other protection it afforded, the boys might as well have slept
outside. Nevertheless they were soon fast asleep. Ken awoke a couple of
times during the night and rolled over to find a softer spot in the hard
bed. These times he heard only the incessant hum of insects.

When he opened his eyes in the gray morning light, he did hear something
that made him sit up with a start. It was a deep booming sound,
different from anything that he had ever heard. Ken called Pepe, and
that roused the boys.

"Listen," said Ken.

In a little while the sound was repeated, a heavy "boo-oom! . . .
boo-oom!" There was a resemblance to the first strong beats of a
drumming grouse, only infinitely wilder.

Pepe called it something like "faisan real."

"What's that?" asked Hal.

The name was as new to Ken as the noise itself. Pepe explained through
George that it was made by a huge black bird not unlike a turkey. It had
a golden plume, and could run as fast as a deer. The boys rolled out,
all having conceived a desire to see such a strange bird. The sound was
not repeated. Almost immediately, however, the thicket across the river
awoke to another sound, as much a contrast to the boom as could be
imagined. It was a bird medley. At first Ken thought of magpies, but
Pepe dispelled this illusion with another name hard to pronounce.

"Chicalocki," he said.

And that seemed just like what they were singing. It was a sharp, clear
song--"Chic-a-lock-i . . . chic-a-lock-i," and to judge from the full
chorus there must have been many birds.

"They're a kind of pheasant," added George, "and make fine pot-stews."

The chicalocki ceased their salute to the morning, and then, as the
river mist melted away under the rising sun, other birds took it up.
Notes new to Ken burst upon the air. And familiar old songs thrilled
him, made him think of summer days on the Susquehanna--the sweet carol
of the meadow-lark, the whistle of the quail, the mellow, sad call of
the swamp-blackbird. The songs blended in an exquisite harmony.

"Why, some of them are our own birds come south for the winter,"
declared Hal.

"It's music," said Ken.

"Just wait," laughed George.

It dawned upon Ken then that George was a fellow who had the mysterious
airs of a prophet hinting dire things.

Ken did not know what to wait for, but he enjoyed the suggestion and
anticipated much. Ducks began to whir by; flocks of blackbirds alighted
in the trees across the river. Suddenly Hal jumped up, and Ken was
astounded at a great discordant screeching and a sweeping rush of
myriads of wings. Ken looked up to see the largest flock of birds he had
ever seen.

"Parrots," he yelled.

Indeed they were, and they let the boys know it. They flew across the
river, wheeled to come back, all the time screeching, and then they
swooped down into the tops of the cypress-trees.

"Red-heads," said George. "Just wait till you see the yellow-heads!"

At the moment the red-heads were quite sufficient for Ken. They broke
out into a chattering, screaming, cackling discordance. It was plainly
directed at the boys. These intelligent birds were curious and
resentful. As Pepe put it, they were scolding. Ken enjoyed it for a full
half-hour and reveled in the din. That morning serenade was worth the
trip. Presently the parrots flew away, and Ken was surprised to find
that most of the other birds had ceased singing. They had set about the
business of the day--something it was nigh time for Ken to consider.

Breakfast over, the boys broke camp, eager for the adventures that they
felt to be before them.



VI

WILDERNESS LIFE


"Now for the big job, boys," called Ken. "Any ideas will be welcome, but
don't all talk at once."

And this job was the packing of the outfit in the boat. It was a study
for Ken, and he found himself thanking his lucky stars that he had
packed boats for trips on rapid rivers. George and Hal came to the fore
with remarkable advice which Ken was at the pains of rejecting. And as
fast as one wonderful idea emanated from the fertile minds another one
came in. At last Ken lost patience.

"Kids, it's going to take brains to pack this boat," he said, with some
scorn.

And when Hal remarked that in that case he did not see how they ever
were going to pack the boat, Ken drove both boys away and engaged Pepe
to help.

The boat had to be packed for a long trip, with many things taken into
consideration. The very best way to pack it must be decided upon and
thereafter held to strictly. Balance was all-important; comfort and
elbow-room were not to be overlooked; a flat surface easy to crawl and
jump over was absolutely necessary. Fortunately, the boat was large and
roomy, although not heavy. The first thing Ken did was to cut out the
narrow bow-seat. Here he packed a small bucket of preserved mullet, some
bottles of kerosene and canya, and a lantern. The small, flat trunk,
full of supplies, went in next. Two boxes with the rest of the supplies
filled up the space between the trunk and the rowing-seat. By slipping
an extra pair of oars, coils of rope, the ax, and a few other articles
between the gunwales and the trunk and boxes Ken made them fit snugly.
He cut off a piece of the canvas, and, folding it, he laid it with the
blankets lengthwise over the top. This made a level surface, one that
could be gotten over quickly, or a place to sleep, for that matter, and
effectually disposed of the bow half of the boat. Of course the boat
sank deep at the bow, but Ken calculated when they were all aboard their
weight would effect an even balance.

The bags with clothing Ken put under the second seat. Then he arranged
the other piece of canvas so that it projected up back of the stern of
the boat. He was thinking of the waves to be buffeted in going stern
first down-stream through the rapids. The fishing-tackle and guns he
laid flat from seat to seat. Last of all he placed the ammunition on one
side next the gunwale, and the suit-case carrying camera, films,
medicines, on the other.

"Come now, fellows," called Ken. "Hal, you and George take the second
seat. Pepe will take the oars. I'll sit in the stern."

Pepe pushed off, jumped to his place, and grasped the oars. Ken was
delighted to find the boat trim, and more buoyant than he had dared to
hope.

"We're off," cried Hal, and he whooped. And George exercised his already
well-developed faculty of imitating Hal.

Pepe bent to the oars, and under his powerful strokes the boat glided
up-stream. Soon the bridge disappeared. Ken had expected a long, shady
ride, but it did not turn out so. Shallow water and gravelly rapids made
rowing impossible.

"Pile out, boys, and pull," said Ken.

The boys had dressed for wading and rough work, and went overboard with
a will. Pulling, at first, was not hard work. They were fresh and eager,
and hauled the boat up swift, shallow channels, making nearly as good
time as when rowing in smooth water. Then, as the sun began to get hot,
splashing in the cool river was pleasant. They passed little islands
green with willows and came to high clay-banks gradually wearing away,
and then met with rocky restrictions in the stream-bed. From round a
bend came a hollow roar of a deeper rapid. Ken found it a swift-rushing
incline, very narrow, and hard to pull along. The margin of the river
was hidden and obstructed by willows so that the boys could see very
little ahead.

When they got above this fall the water was deep and still. Entering the
boat again, they turned a curve into a long, beautiful stretch of river.

"Ah! this's something like," said Hal.

The green, shady lane was alive with birds and water-fowl. Ducks of
various kinds rose before the boat. White, blue, gray, and speckled
herons, some six feet tall, lined the low bars, and flew only at near
approach. There were many varieties of bitterns, one kind with a purple
back and white breast. They were very tame and sat on the overhanging
branches, uttering dismal croaks. Everywhere was the flash and glitter
and gleam of birds in flight, up and down and across the river.

Hal took his camera and tried to get pictures.

The strangeness, beauty, and life of this jungle stream absorbed Ken. He
did not take his guns from their cases. The water was bright green and
very deep; here and there were the swirls of playing fish. The banks
were high and densely covered with a luxuriant foliage. Huge
cypress-trees, moss-covered, leaned half-way across the river. Giant
gray-barked ceibas spread long branches thickly tufted with aloes,
orchids, and other jungle parasites. Palm-trees lifted slender stems and
graceful broad-leaved heads. Clumps of bamboo spread an enormous green
arch out over the banks. These bamboo-trees were particularly beautiful
to Ken. A hundred yellow, black-circled stems grew out of the ground
close together, and as they rose high they gracefully leaned their
bodies and drooped their tips. The leaves were arrowy, exquisite in
their fineness.

He looked up the long river-lane, bright in the sun, dark and still
under the moss-veiled cypresses, at the turning vines and blossoming
creepers, at the changeful web of moving birds, and indulged to the
fullest that haunting sense for wild places.

"Chicalocki," said Pepe, suddenly.

A flock of long-tailed birds, resembling the pheasant in body, was
sailing across the river. Again George made a dive for a gun. This one
was a sixteen-gage and worn out. He shot twice at the birds on the wing.
Then Pepe rowed under the overhanging branches, and George killed three
chicalocki with his rifle. They were olive green in color, and the long
tail had a brownish cast. Heavy and plump, they promised fine eating.

"Pato real!" yelled Pepe, pointing excitedly up the river.

Several black fowl, as large as geese, hove in sight, flying pretty low.
Ken caught a glimpse of wide, white-crested wings, and knew then that
these were the birds he had seen.

"Load up and get ready," he said to George. "They're coming fast--shoot
ahead of them."

How swift and powerful they were on the wing! They swooped up when they
saw the boat, and offered a splendid target. The little sixteen-gage
rang out. Ken heard the shot strike. The leader stopped in midair,
dipped, and plunged with a sounding splash. Ken picked him up and found
him to be most beautiful, and as large and heavy as a goose. His black
feathers shone with the latent green luster of an opal, and the pure
white of the shoulder of the wings made a remarkable contrast.

"George, we've got enough meat for to-day, more than we can use. Don't
shoot any more," said Ken.

Pepe resumed rowing, and Ken told him to keep under the overhanging
branches and to row without splashing. He was skilled in the use of the
oars, so the boat glided along silently. Ken felt he was rewarded for
this stealth. Birds of rare and brilliant plumage flitted among the
branches. There was one, a long, slender bird, gold and black with a
white ring round its neck. There were little yellow-breasted kingfishers
no larger than a wren, and great red-breasted kingfishers with blue
backs and tufted heads. The boat passed under a leaning ceiba-tree that
was covered with orchids. Ken saw the slim, sharp head of a snake dart
from among the leaves. His neck was as thick as Ken's wrist.

"What kind of a snake, Pepe?" whispered Ken, as he fingered the
trigger of George's gun. But Pepe did not see the snake, and then
Ken thought better of disturbing the silence with a gunshot. He was
reminded, however, that the Texan had told him of snakes in this
jungle, some of which measured more than fifteen feet and were as
large as a man's leg.

Most of the way the bank was too high and steep and overgrown for
any animal to get down to the water. Still there were dry gullies,
or arroyos, every few hundred yards, and these showed the tracks of
animals, but Pepe could not tell what species from the boat. Often
Ken heard the pattering of hard feet, and then he would see a little
cloud of dust in one of these drinking-places. So he cautioned Pepe
to row slower and closer in to the bank.

"Look there! lemme out!" whispered Hal, and he seemed to be on the
point of jumping overboard.

"Coons," said George. "Oh, a lot of them. There--some young ones."

Ken saw that they had come abruptly upon a band of raccoons, not
less than thirty in number, some big, some little, and a few like
tiny balls of fur, and all had long white-ringed tails. What a
scampering the big ones set up! The little ones were frightened,
and the smallest so tame they scarcely made any effort to escape.
Pepe swung the boat in to the bank, and reaching out he caught a
baby raccoon and handed it to Hal.

"Whoop! We'll catch things and tame them," exclaimed Hal, much
delighted, and he proceeded to tie the little raccoon under the
seat.

"Sure, we'll get a whole menagerie," said George.

So they went on up-stream. Often Ken motioned Pepe to stop in dark,
cool places under the golden-green canopy of bamboos. He was as
much fascinated by the beautiful foliage and tree growths as by the
wild life. Hal appeared more taken up with the fluttering of birds
in the thick jungle, rustlings, and soft, stealthy steps. Then as
they moved on Ken whispered and pointed out a black animal vanishing
in the thicket. Three times he caught sight of a spotted form
slipping away in the shade. George saw it the last time, and
whispered: "Tiger-cat! Let's get him."

"What's that, Ken, a kind of a wildcat?" asked Hal.

"Yes." Ken took George's .32-caliber and tried to find a way up the
bank. There was no place to climb up unless he dragged himself up
branches of trees or drooping bamboos, and this he did not care to
attempt encumbered with a rifle. Only here and there could he see
over the matted roots and creepers. Then the sound of rapids put
hunting out of his mind.

"Boys, we've got Micas Falls to reach," he said, and told Pepe to
row on.

The long stretch of deep river ended in a wide, shallow, noisy
rapid. Fir-trees lined the banks. The palms, cypresses, bamboos,
and the flowery, mossy growths were not here in evidence. Thickly
wooded hills rose on each side. The jungle looked sear and yellow.

The boys began to wade up the rapid, and before they had reached the
head of it Pepe yelled and jumped back from where he was wading at
the bow. He took an oar and began to punch at something in the
water, at the same time calling out.

"Crocodile!" cried George, and he climbed in the boat. Hal was not
slow in following suit. Then Ken saw Pepe hitting a small
crocodile, which lashed out with its tail and disappeared.

"Come out of there," called Ken to the boys. "We can't pull you
upstream."

"Say, I don't want to step on one of those ugly brutes," protested
Hal.

"Look sharp, then. Come out."

Above the rapid extended a quarter-mile stretch where Pepe could
row, and beyond that another long rapid. When the boys had waded up
that it was only to come to another. It began to be hard work. But
Ken kept the boys buckled down, and they made fair progress. They
pulled up through eighteen rapids, and covered distance that Ken
estimated to be about ten miles. The blue mountain loomed closer
and higher, yet Ken began to have doubts of reaching Micas Falls
that day.

Moreover, as they ascended the stream, the rapids grew rougher.

"It'll be great coming down," panted Hal.

Finally they reached a rapid which had long dinned in Ken's ears.
All the water in the river rushed down on the right-hand side
through a channel scarcely twenty feet wide. It was deep and swift.
With the aid of ropes, and by dint of much hard wading and pulling,
the boys got the boat up. A little farther on was another
bothersome rapid. At last they came to a succession of falls, steps
in the river, that barred farther advance up-stream.

Here Ken climbed up on the bank, to find the country hilly and open,
with patches of jungle and palm groves leading up to the mountains.
Then he caught a glint of Micas Falls, and decided that it would be
impossible to get there. He made what observations he could, and
returned to camp.

"Boys, here's where we stop," said Ken. "It'll be all down-stream
now, and I'm glad."

There was no doubt that the boys were equally glad. They made camp
on a grassy bench above a foam-flecked pool. Ken left the others to
get things in shape for supper, and, taking his camera, he hurried
off to try to get a picture of Micas Falls. He found open places
and by-paths through the brushy forest. He saw evidences of forest
fire, and then knew what had ruined that part of the jungle. There
were no birds. It was farther than he had estimated to the foothill
he had marked, but, loath to give up, he kept on and finally reached
a steep, thorny ascent. Going up he nearly suffocated with heat.
He felt rewarded for his exertions when he saw Micas Falls
glistening in the distance. It was like a string of green fans
connected by silver ribbons. He remained there watching it while
the sun set in the golden notch between the mountains.

On the way back to camp he waded through a flat overgrown with
coarse grass and bushes. Here he jumped a herd of deer, eight in
number. These small, sleek, gray deer appeared tame, and if there
had been sufficient light, Ken would have photographed them. It
cost him an effort to decide not to fetch his rifle, but as he had
meat enough in camp there was nothing to do except let the deer go.

When he got back to the river Pepe grinned at him, and, pointing to
little red specks on his shirt, he said:

"Pinilius."

"Aha! the ticks!" exclaimed Ken.

They were exceedingly small, not to be seen without close scrutiny.
They could not be brushed off, so Ken began laboriously to pick them
off. Pepe and George laughed, and Hal appeared to derive some sort
of enjoyment from the incident.

"Say, these ticks don't bother me any," declared Ken.

Pepe grunted; and George called out, "Just wait till you get the big
fellows--the garrapatoes."

It developed presently that the grass and bushes on the camp-site
contained millions of the ticks. Ken found several of the larger
ticks--almost the size of his little finger-nail--but he did not get
bitten. Pepe and George, however, had no such good luck, as was
manifested at different times. By the time they had cut down the
bushes and carried in a stock of fire-wood, both were covered with
the little pests. Hal found a spot where there appeared to be none,
and here he stayed.

Pepe and George had the bad habit of smoking, and Ken saw them
burning the ticks off shirt-sleeves and trousers-legs, using the
fiery end of their cigarettes. This feat did not puzzle Ken
anything like the one where they held the red point of the
cigarettes close to their naked flesh. Ken, and Hal, too, had to
see that performance at close range.

"Why do you do that?" asked Ken.

"Popping ticks," replied George. He and Pepe were as sober as
judges.

The fact of the matter was soon clear to Ken. The ticks stuck on as
if glued. When the hot end of the burning cigarette was held within
a quarter of an inch of them they simply blew up, exploded with a
pop. Ken could easily distinguish between the tiny pop of an
exploding pinilius and the heavier pop of a garrapato.

"But, boy, while you're taking time to do that, half a dozen other
ticks can bite you!" exclaimed Ken.

"Sure they can," replied George. "But if they get on me I'll kill
'em. I don't mind the little ones--it's the big boys I hate."

On the other hand, Pete seemed to mind most the pinilius.

"Say, from now on you fellows will be Garrapato George and Pinilius
Pepe."

"Pretty soon you'll laugh on the other side of your face," said
George. "In three days you'll be popping ticks yourself."

Just then Hal let out a yell and began to hunt for a tick that had
bit him. If there was anything that could bother Hal Ward it was a
crawling bug of some kind.

"I'll have to christen you too, brother." said Ken, gurgling with
mirth. "A very felicitous name--Hollering Hal!"

Despite the humor of the thing, Ken really saw its serious side.
When he found the grass under his feet alive with ticks he cast
about in his mind for some way to get rid of them. And he hit upon
a remedy. On the ridge above the bench was a palm-tree, and under
it were many dead palm leaves. These were large in size, had long
stems, and were as dry as tinder. Ken lighted one, and it made a
flaming hot torch. It did not take him long to scorch all the ticks
near that camp.

The boys had supper and enjoyed it hugely. The scene went well with
the camp-fire and game-dinner. They gazed out over the foaming
pool, the brawling rapids, to the tufted palm-trees, and above them
the dark-blue mountain. At dusk Hal and George were so tired they
went to bed and at once dropped into slumber. Pepe sat smoking
before the slumbering fire.

And Ken chose that quiet hour to begin the map of the river, and to
set down in his note-book his observations on the mountains and in
the valley, and what he had seen that day of bird, animal, and plant
life in the jungle.



VII

RUNNING THE RAPIDS


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

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

"Pepe, what's wrong?" shouted Ken.

It seemed that Pepe only grew more violent in his wrestling about.
Then Ken 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
the tent 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
Ken thought it doubtful if any Indian ever slapped and tore at his
body in George's frantic manner. To add to the mystery Hal suddenly
popped out of the tent. He was yelling in a way to do justice to
the name Ken had lately given him, and, as for wild and whirling
antics, his were simply marvelous.

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

He saw a wide bar of black crossing the moonlit ground, the grass,
and the blankets. This bar moved. It was alive. Bending low Ken
descried that it was made by ants. An army of jungle ants on a
march! They had come in a straight line along the base of the
little hill and their passageway 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 of course, the ants had begun to
bite. The same in turn happened to George and then Hal.

Ken was immensely relieved, and had his laugh out. The stream of
ants moved steadily and quite rapidly, and soon passed from sight.
By this time Pepe and the boys had threshed themselves free of ants
and into some degree of composure.

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

Pepe snorted, which made Ken think the native understood something
of English. 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 not
afraid 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
to him!"

The boys slept well the remainder of the night and, owing to the
break in their rest, did not awaken early. The sun shone hot when
Ken rolled out; 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
the day before.

"I think we'll do well to leave the trunk in the boat after this,
unless we 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
nothing was left, and espied a heavy fish-line which George had
baited, set, and forgotten.

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

Ken happened to be busy at the boat when George started to take in
the line. An exclamation from Pepe, George's yell, and a loud
splash made Ken 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 likely to 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 on the line. The fish, or whatever it was at the other end,
gave a mighty jerk that almost dragged the two off the bank.

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

Hal now added his weight and strength, and the three of them,
unmindful of Ken's advice, hauled back with might and main. The
line parted and they 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't pulled so hard you might have landed that thing, whatever it
was. All aboard now. We must be on the move--we don't know what we
have before us."

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 in swift water. They shoved off, and Ken sent one
regretful glance up the river, at the shady aisle between the green
banks, at the white rapids, and the great colored dome of the
mountain. He almost hesitated, for he desired to see more of that
jungle-covered mountain. But something already 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 names of trees and
flowers and wild creatures.

Going down-stream on any river, mostly, would have been pleasure,
but drifting on the swift current of the Santa Rosa and rowing under
the wonderful moss-bearded cypresses was almost like a dream. It
was too beautiful to seem real. The smooth stretch before the first
rapid was short, however, and then all Ken's attention had to be
given to the handling of the boat. He saw that George and Pepe both
expected to get out and wade down the rapids as they had waded up.
He had a surprise in store for them. The rapids that he could not
shoot would have to be pretty 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 the
boys. Pepe was tremendously excited; he yelled and made wild motions
with his hands; George looked a little frightened. Hal enjoyed it.
Whatever the rapid appeared to them, it was magnificent to Ken; and it
was play to manage the boat in such water. A little pull on one oar and
then on the other kept the stern straight down-stream. The channel he
could make out a long way ahead. He amused himself by watching George
and Pepe. There were stones in the channel, and the water rose angrily
about them. A glance was enough to tell that he could float over these
without striking. But the boys thought they were going to hit every
stone, and were uneasy all the time. Twice he had to work to pass ledges
and sunken trees upon which the current bore down hard. When Ken neared
one of these he dipped the oars and pulled back to stop or lessen the
momentum; then a stroke turned the boat half broadside to the current.
That would force it to one side, and another stroke would turn the boat
straight. At the bottom of this rapid they encountered a long triangle
of choppy waves that they bumped and splashed over. They came through
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 head
of 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 shoot
it even with the boat. But he remembered the four-foot waves at the
bottom, and besides he resented the importunity of the spirit of daring
so 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 a
rope.

The thing looked a good deal easier than it turned out to be. Half-way
through, at the narrowest point and most abrupt curve, Pepe
misunderstood directions and pulled hard on the bow-rope, when he should
have let it slack.

The boat swung in, nearly smashing Ken against the bank, and the
sweeping 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. He
shot downstream, and Ken, looking that way, saw several deer under the
firs on a rocky flat. George shot three more times, and the bullets went
"spinging" into the trees. The deer bounded out of sight.

When Ken turned again, water was roaring into the boat. He was being
pressed 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 the
water. That was the worst thing he could have done.

"Grab the rope!" ordered Ken, wildly. "Grab the bow! Don't let it swing
out! 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 to get
out from where the swinging stern was wedging him into the bank, but
could not budge. Fearing that all the outfit would be lost in the river,
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. Ken
leaped out on the ledge and ran along with the boat. It careened round
the 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 few
sharp strokes to the drifting boat. He gained the bow, grasped it, and
then pulled on the rope.

Ken had a sickening feeling that Pepe might be drowned. Suddenly Pepe
appeared like a brown porpoise. He was touching bottom in places and
holding back on the rope. Then the current rolled him over and over. The
boat drifted back of a rocky point into shallow water. Hal gave a haul
that 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 two
feet of water. Ken's grip, containing camera, films, and other
perishable goods, was on top, and he got it just in time. He threw it
out on the rocks. Then together the boys lifted the boat and hauled the
bow well up on the shore.

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

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

"Good! he's all right," said Ken.

Pepe said "Mucho malo," and pointed to his shins, which bore several
large 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--for
which he had no concern--he gazed in dismay at his whole store of
cigarettes wet by the water.

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

Fortunately nothing had been carried away. That part of the supplies
which would have been affected by water was packed in tin cases, and so
suffered no damage. The ammunition was waterproof, Ken's Parker
hammerless and his .351 automatic rifle were full of water, and so were
George's guns and Hal's. While they took their weapons apart, wiped
them, and laid them in the sun, Pepe spread out the rest of the things
and then baled out the boat. The sun was so hot that everything dried
quickly and was not any the worse for the wetting. The boys lost
scarcely an hour by the accident. Before the start Ken took George and
Pepe 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 they
were enjoying themselves again. Then came a long succession of rapids
which Ken shot without anything approaching a mishap. When they drifted
into the level stretch Pepe relieved him at the oars. They glided
down-stream under the drooping bamboo, under the silken streamers of
silvery moss, under the dark, cool bowers of matted vine and blossoming
creepers. And as they passed this time the jungle silence awoke to the
crack of George's .22 and the discordant cry of river fowl. Ken's guns
were 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 watching
the bamboo thickets and the mouths of the little dry ravines.

That ride was again so interesting, so full of sound and action and
color, that it seemed a very short one. The murmur of the water on the
rocks told Ken that it was time to change seats with Pepe. They drifted
down two short rapids, and then came to the gravelly channels between
the islands noted on the way up. The water was shallow down these
rippling channels; and, fearing they might strike a stone, Ken tumbled
out over the bow and, wading slowly, let the boat down to still water
again. He was about to get in when he espied what he thought was an
alligator 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. Its
color 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 iguana
raised itself on short, stumpy legs George shot at it, and missed, as
usual. But he effectually frightened the reptile, which started to climb
the bank with much nimbleness. Pepe began to run, brandishing his long
machete. George plunged into the water in hot pursuit, and then Hal
yielded to the call of the chase. Pepe reached the iguana before it got
up the bank, aimed a mighty blow with his machete, and would surely have
cut the reptile in two pieces if the blade had not caught on an
over-hanging branch. Then Pepe fell up the bank and barely grasped the
tail of the iguana. Pepe hauled back, and Pepe was powerful. The frantic
creature dug its feet in the clay-bank and held on for dear life. But
Pepe was too strong. He jerked the iguana down and flung it square upon
George, who had begun to climb the bank.

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

Remarkably awkward as that iguana was, he could surely cover ground with
his stumpy legs. Again he dashed up the bank. Pepe got close enough once
more, and again he swung the machete. The blow cut off a piece of the
long tail, but the only effect this produced was to make the iguana run
all the faster. It disappeared over the bank, with Pepe scrambling close
behind. Then followed a tremendous crashing in the dry thickets, after
which the iguana could be heard rattling and tearing away through the
jungle.

Pepe returned to the boat with the crestfallen boys, and he was much
concerned over the failure to catch the big lizard, 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 that
lizard's tail you might have caught him," added Ken.

Presently Pepe espied another iguana in the forks of a tree, and he
rowed ashore. This lizard was only a small one, not over two feet in
length, but he created some excitement among the boys. George wanted him
to eat, and Hal wanted the skin for a specimen, and Ken wanted to see
what the lizard looked like close at hand. So they all clamored for Pepe
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 Pepe
ended 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 then
drifted under the railroad bridge.

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



VIII

THE FIRST TIGER-CAT


The Santa Rosa opened out wide, and ran swiftly over smooth rock. Deep
cracks, a foot or so wide, crossed the river diagonally, and fish darted
in and out.

The boys had about half a mile of this, when, after turning a hilly
bend, they entered a long rapid. It was a wonderful stretch of river to
look down.

"By George!" said Ken, as he stood up to survey it. "This is great!"

"It's all right NOW," added George, with his peculiar implication as to
the future.

"What gets me is the feeling of what might be round the next bend," said
Hal.

This indeed, Ken thought, made the fascination of such travel. The water
was swift and smooth and shallow. There was scarcely a wave or ripple.
At times the boat stuck fast on the flat rock, and the boys would have
to get out to shove off. As far ahead as Ken could see extended this
wide slant of water. On the left rose a thick line of huge cypresses all
festooned with gray moss that drooped to the water; on the right rose a
bare bluff of crumbling rock. It looked like blue clay baked and cracked
by the sun. A few palms fringed the top.

"Say, we can beat this," said Ken, as for the twentieth time the boys
had to step out and shove off a flat, shallow place. "Two of you in the
bow and Pepe with me in the stern, feet overboard."

The little channels ran every way, making it necessary often to turn the
boat. Ken's idea was to drift along and keep the boat from grounding by
an occasional kick.

"Ken manages to think of something once in a while," observed Hal.

Then the boat drifted down-stream, whirling round and round. Here Pepe
would drop his brown foot in and kick his end clear of a shallow ledge;
there George would make a great splash when his turn came to ward off
from a rock; and again Hal would give a greater kick than was necessary
to the righting of the boat. Probably Hal was much influenced by the
fact that when he kicked hard he destroyed the lazy equilibrium of his
companions.

It dawned upon Ken that here was a new and unique way to travel down a
river. It was different from anything he had ever tried before. The
water was swift and seldom more than a foot deep, except in diagonal
cracks that ribbed the river-bed. This long, shut-in stretch appeared to
be endless. But for the quick, gliding movement of the boat, which made
a little breeze, the heat would have been intolerable. When one of Hal's
kicks made Ken lurch overboard to sit down ludicrously, the cool water
sent thrills over him. Instead of retaliating on Hal, he was glad to be
wet. And the others, soon discovering the reason for Ken's remarkable
good-nature, went overboard and lay flat in the cool ripples. Then
little clouds of steam began to rise from their soaked clothes.

Ken began to have an idea that he had been wise in boiling the water
which they drank. They all suffered from a parching thirst. Pepe scooped
up water in his hand; George did likewise, and then Hal.

"You've all got to stop that," ordered Ken, sharply. "No drinking this
water unless it's boiled."

The boys obeyed, for the hour, but they soon forgot, or deliberately
allayed their thirst despite Ken's command. Ken himself found his thirst
unbearable. He squeezed the juice of a wild lime into a cup of water and
drank that. Then he insisted on giving the boys doses of quinine and
anti-malaria pills, which treatment he meant to continue daily.

Toward the lower part of that rapid, where the water grew deeper, fish
began to be so numerous that the boys kicked at many as they darted
under the boat. There were thousands of small fish and some large ones.
Occasionally, as a big fellow lunged for a crack in the rock, he would
make the water roar. There was a fish that resembled a mullet, and
another that Hal said was some kind of bass with a blue tail. Pepe
chopped at them with his machete; George whacked with an oar; Hal stood
up in the boat and shot at them with his .22 rifle.

"Say, I've got to see what that blue-tailed bass looks like," said Ken.
"You fellows will never get one."

Whereupon Ken jointed up a small rod and, putting on a spinner, began to
cast it about. He felt two light fish hit it. Then came a heavy shock
that momentarily checked the boat. The water foamed as the line cut
through, and Ken was just about to jump off the boat to wade and follow
the fish, when it broke the leader.

"That was a fine exhibition," remarked the critical Hal.

"What's the matter with you?" retorted Ken, who was sensitive as to his
fishing abilities. "It was a big fish. He broke things."

"Haven't you got a reel on that rod and fifty yards of line?" queried
Hal.

Ken did not have another spinner, and he tried an artificial minnow, but
could not get a strike on it. He took Hal's gun and shot at several of
the blue-tailed fish, but though he made them jump out of the water like
a real northern black-bass, it was all of no avail.

Then Hal caught one with a swoop of the landing net. It was a beautiful
fish, and it did have a blue tail. Pepe could not name it, nor could Ken
classify it, so Hal was sure he had secured a rare specimen.

When the boat drifted round a bend to enter another long, wide, shallow
rapid, the boys demurred a little at the sameness of things. The bare
blue bluffs persisted, and the line of gray-veiled cypresses and the
strange formation of stream-bed. Five more miles of drifting under the
glaring sun made George and Hal lie back in the boat, under an
improvised sun-shade. The ride was novel and strange to Ken Ward, and
did not pall upon him, though he suffered from the heat and glare. He
sat on the bow, occasionally kicking the boat off a rock.

All at once a tense whisper from Pepe brought Ken round with a jerk.
Pepe was pointing down along the right-hand shore. George heard, and,
raising himself, called excitedly: "Buck! buck!"

Ken saw a fine deer leap back from the water and start to climb the side
of a gully that indented the bluff. Snatching up the .351 rifle, he
shoved in the safety catch. The distance was far--perhaps two hundred
yards--but without elevating the sights he let drive. A cloud of dust
puffed up under the nose of the climbing deer.

"Wow!" yelled George, and Pepe began to jabber. Hal sprang up, nearly
falling overboard, and he shouted: "Give it to him, Ken!"

The deer bounded up a steep, winding trail, his white flag standing, his
reddish coat glistening. Ken fired again. The bullet sent up a white
puff of dust, this time nearer still. That shot gave Ken the range, and
he pulled the automatic again--and again. Each bullet hit closer. The
boys were now holding their breath, watching, waiting. Ken aimed a
little firmer and finer at the space ahead of the deer--for in that
instant he remembered what the old hunter on Penetier had told him--and
he pulled the trigger twice.

The buck plunged down, slipped off the trail, and, raising a cloud of
dust, rolled over and over. Then it fell sheer into space, and whirled
down to strike the rock with a sodden crash.

It was Ken's first shooting on this trip, and he could not help adding a
cry of exultation to the yells of his admiring comrades.

"Guess you didn't plug him!" exclaimed Hal Ward, with flashing eyes.

Wading, the boys pulled the boat ashore. Pepe pronounced the buck to be
very large, but to Ken, remembering the deer in Coconino Forest, it
appeared small. If there was an unbroken bone left in that deer, Ken
greatly missed his guess. He and Pepe cut out the haunch least crushed
by the fall.

"There's no need to carry along more meat than we can use," said George.
"It spoils overnight. That's the worst of this jungle, I've heard
hunters say."

Hal screwed up his face in the manner he affected when he tried to
imitate old Hiram Bent. "Wal, youngster, I reckon I'm right an' down
proud of thet shootin'. You air comin' along."

Ken was as pleased as Hal, but he replied, soberly: "Well, kid, I hope I
can hold as straight as that when we run up against a jaguar."

"Do you think we'll see one?" asked Hal.

"Just you wait!" exclaimed George, replying for Ken. "Pepe says we'll
have to sleep in the boat, and anchor the boat in the middle of the
river."

"What for?"

"To keep those big yellow tigers from eating us up."

"How nice!" replied Hal, with a rather forced laugh.

So, talking and laughing, the boys resumed their down-stream journey.
Ken, who was always watching with sharp eyes, saw buzzards appear, as if
by magic. Before the boat was half a mile down the river buzzards were
circling over the remains of the deer. These birds of prey did not fly
from the jungle on either side of the stream. They sailed, dropped down
from the clear blue sky where they had been invisible. How wonderful
that was to Ken! Nature had endowed these vulture-like birds with
wonderful scent or instinct or sight, or all combined. But Ken believed
that it was power of sight which brought the buzzards so quickly to the
scene of the killing. He watched them circling, sweeping down till a
curve in the river hid them from view.

And with this bend came a welcome change. The bluff played out in a
rocky slope below which the green jungle was relief to aching eyes. As
the boys made this point, the evening breeze began to blow. They beached
the boat and unloaded to make camp.

"We haven't had any work to-day, but we're all tired just the same,"
observed Ken.

"The heat makes a fellow tired," said George.

They were fortunate in finding a grassy plot where there appeared to be
but few ticks and other creeping things. That evening it was a little
surprise to Ken to realize how sensitive he had begun to feel about
these jungle vermin.

Pepe went up the bank for fire-wood. Ken heard him slashing away with
his machete. Then this sound ceased, and Pepe yelled in fright. Ken and
George caught up guns as they bounded into the thicket; Hal started to
follow, likewise armed. Ken led the way through a thorny brake to come
suddenly upon Pepe. At the same instant Ken caught a glimpse of gray,
black-striped forms slipping away in the jungle. Pepe shouted out
something.

"Tiger-cats!" exclaimed George.

Ken held up his finger to enjoin silence. With that he stole cautiously
forward, the others noiselessly at his heels. The thicket was lined with
well-beaten trails, and by following these and stooping low it was
possible to go ahead without rustling the brush. Owing to the gathering
twilight Ken could not see very far. When he stopped to listen he heard
the faint crackling of dead brush and soft, quick steps. He had not
proceeded far when pattering footsteps halted him. Ken dropped to his
knee. The boys knelt behind him, and Pepe whispered. Peering along the
trail Ken saw what he took for a wildcat. Its boldness amazed him.
Surely it had heard him, but instead of bounding into the thicket it
crouched not more than twenty-five feet away. Ken took a quick shot at
the gray huddled form. It jerked, stretched out, and lay still. Then a
crashing in the brush, and gray streaks down the trail told Ken of more
game.

"There they go. Peg away at them," called Ken.

George and Hal burned a good deal of powder and sent much lead whistling
through the dry branches, but the gray forms vanished in the jungle.

"We got one, anyway," said Ken.

He advanced to find his quarry quite dead. It was bigger than any
wildcat Ken had ever seen. The color was a grayish yellow, almost white,
lined and spotted with black. Ken lifted it and found it heavy enough to
make a good load.

"He's a beauty," said Hal.

"Pepe says it's a tiger-cat," remarked George. "There are two or three
kinds besides the big tiger. We may run into a lot of them and get some
skins."

It was almost dark when they reached camp. While Pepe and Hal skinned
the tiger-cat and stretched the pelt over a framework of sticks the
other boys got supper. They were all very hungry and tired, and pleased
with the events of the day. As they sat round the camp-fire there was a
constant whirring of water-fowl over their heads and an incessant hum of
insects from the jungle.

"Ken, does it feel as wild to you here as on Buckskin Mountain?" asked
Hal.

"Oh yes, much wilder, Hal," replied his brother. "And it's different,
somehow. Out in Arizona there was always the glorious expectancy of
to-morrow's fun or sport. Here I have a kind of worry--a feeling--"

But he concluded it wiser to keep to himself that strange feeling of
dread which came over him at odd moments.

"It suits me," said Hal. "I want to get a lot of things and keep them
alive. Of course, I want specimens. I'd like some skins for my den, too.
But I don't care so much about killing things."

"Just wait!" retorted George, who evidently took Hal's remark as a
reflection upon his weakness. "Just wait! You'll be shooting pretty soon
for your life."

"Now, George, what do you mean by that?" questioned Ken, determined to
pin George down to facts. "You said you didn't really KNOW anything
about this jungle. Why are you always predicting disaster for us?"

"Why? Because I've heard things about the jungle," retorted, George.
"And Pepe says wait till we get down off the mountain. He doesn't KNOW
anything, either. But it's his instinct--Pepe's half Indian. So I say,
too, wait till we get down in the jungle!"

"Confound you! Where are we now?" queried Ken.

"The real jungle is the lowland. There we'll find the tigers and the
crocodiles and the wild cattle and wild pigs."

"Bring on your old pigs and things," replied Hal.

But Ken looked into the glowing embers of the camp-fire and was silent.
When he got out his note-book and began his drawing, he forgot the worry
and dread in the interest of his task. He was astonished at his memory,
to see how he could remember every turn in the river and yet not lose
his sense of direction. He could tell almost perfectly the distance
traveled, because he knew so well just how much a boat would cover in
swift or slow waters in a given time. He thought he could give a fairly
correct estimate of the drop of the river. And, as for descriptions of
the jungle life along the shores, that was a delight, all except trying
to understand and remember and spell the names given to him by Pepe. Ken
imagined Pepe spoke a mixture of Toltec, Aztec, Indian, Spanish, and
English.



IX

IN THE WHITE WATER


Upon awakening next morning Ken found the sun an hour high. He was stiff
and sore and thirsty. Pepe and the boys slept so soundly it seemed
selfish to wake them.

All around camp there was a melodious concourse of birds. But the
parrots did not make a visit that morning. While Ken was washing in the
river a troop of deer came down to the bar on the opposite side. Ken ran
for his rifle, and by mistake took up George's .32. He had a splendid
shot at less than one hundred yards. But the bullet dropped fifteen feet
in front of the leading buck. The deer ran into the deep, bushy willows.

"That gun's leaded," muttered Ken. "It didn't shoot where I aimed."

Pepe jumped up; George rolled out of his blanket with one eye still
glued shut; and Hal stretched and yawned and groaned.

"Do I HAVE to get up?" he asked.

"Shore, lad," said Ken, mimicking Jim Williams, "or I'll hev to be
reconsiderin' that idee of mine about you bein' pards with me."

Such mention of Hal's ranger friend brought the boy out of his lazy bed
with amusing alacrity.

"Rustle breakfast, now, you fellows," said Ken, and, taking his rifle,
he started off to climb the high river bluff.

It was his idea to establish firmly in mind the trend of the
mountain-range, and the relation of the river to it. The difficulty in
mapping the river would come after it left the mountains to wind away
into the wide lowlands. The matter of climbing the bluff would have been
easy but for the fact that he wished to avoid contact with grass, brush,
trees, even dead branches, as all were covered with ticks. The upper
half of the bluff was bare, and when he reached that part he soon
surmounted it. Ken faced south with something of eagerness. Fortunately
the mist had dissolved under the warm rays of the sun, affording an
unobstructed view. That scene was wild and haunting, yet different from
what his fancy had pictured. The great expanse of jungle was gray, the
green line of cypress, palm, and bamboo following the southward course
of the river. The mountain-range some ten miles distant sloped to the
south and faded away in the haze. The river disappeared in rich dark
verdure, and but for it, which afforded a water-road back to
civilization, Ken would have been lost in a dense gray-green overgrowth
of tropical wilderness. Once or twice he thought he caught the faint
roar of a waterfall on the morning breeze, yet could not be sure, and he
returned toward camp with a sober appreciation of the difficulty of his
enterprise and a more thrilling sense of its hazard and charm.

"Didn't see anything to peg at, eh?" greeted Hal. "Well, get your teeth
in some of this venison before it's all gone."

Soon they were under way again, Pepe strong and willing at the oars.
This time Ken had his rifle and shotgun close at hand, ready for use.
Half a mile below, the river, running still and deep, entered a shaded
waterway so narrow that in places the branches of wide-spreading and
leaning cypresses met and intertwined their moss-fringed foliage. This
lane was a paradise for birds, that ranged from huge speckled cranes,
six feet high, to little yellow birds almost too small to see.

Black squirrels were numerous and very tame. In fact, all the creatures
along this shaded stream were so fearless that it was easy to see they
had never heard a shot. Ken awoke sleepy cranes with his fishing-rod and
once pushed a blue heron off a log. He heard animals of some species
running back from the bank, but could not see them.

All at once a soft breeze coming up-stream bore a deep roar of tumbling
rapids. The sensation of dread which had bothered Ken occasionally now
returned and fixed itself in his mind. He was in the jungle of Mexico,
and knew not what lay ahead of him. But if he had been in the wilds of
unexplored Brazil and had heard that roar, it would have been familiar
to him. In his canoe experience on the swift streams of Pennsylvania Ken
Ward had learned, long before he came to rapids, to judge what they were
from the sound. His attention wandered from the beautiful birds, the
moss-shaded bowers, and the overhanging jungle. He listened to the
heavy, sullen roar of the rapids.

"That water sounds different," remarked George.

"Grande," said Pepe, with a smile.

"Pretty heavy, Ken, eh?" asked Hal, looking quickly at his brother.

But Ken Ward made his face a mask, and betrayed nothing of the grim
nature of his thought. Pepe and the boys had little idea of danger, and
they had now a blind faith in Ken.

"I dare say we'll get used to that roar," replied Ken, easily, and he
began to pack his guns away in their cases.

Hal forgot his momentary anxiety; Pepe rowed on, leisurely; and George
lounged in his seat. There was no menace for them in that dull,
continuous roar.

But Ken knew they would soon be in fast water and before long would drop
down into the real wilderness. It was not now too late to go back up the
river, but soon that would be impossible. Keeping a sharp lookout ahead,
Ken revolved in mind the necessity for caution and skilful handling of
the boat. But he realized, too, that overzealousness on the side of
caution was a worse thing for such a trip than sheer recklessness. Good
judgment in looking over rapids, a quick eye to pick the best channel,
then a daring spirit--that was the ideal to be striven for in going down
swift rivers.

Presently Ken saw a break in the level surface of the water. He took
Pepe's place at the oars, and, as usual, turned the boat stern first
down-stream. The banks were low and shelved out in rocky points. This
relieved Ken, for he saw that he could land just above the falls. What
he feared was a narrow gorge impossible to portage round or go through.
As the boat approached the break the roar seemed to divide itself,
hollow and shallow near at hand, rushing and heavy farther on.

Ken rowed close to the bank and landed on the first strip of rock. He
got out and, walking along this ledge, soon reached the fall. It was a
straight drop of some twelve or fifteen feet. The water was shallow all
the way across.

"Boys, this is easy," said Ken. "We'll pack the outfit round the fall,
and slide the boat over."

But Ken did not say anything about the white water extending below the
fall as far as he could see. From here came the sullen roar that had
worried him.

Portaging the supplies around that place turned out to be far from easy.
The portage was not long nor rugged, but the cracked, water-worn rock
made going very difficult. The boys often stumbled. Pepe fell and broke
open a box, and almost broke his leg. Ken had a hard knock. Then, when
it came to carrying the trunk, one at each corner, progress was
laborious and annoying. Full two hours were lost in transporting the
outfit around the fall.

Below there was a wide, shelving apron, over which the water ran a foot
or so in depth. Ken stationed Pepe and the boys there, and went up to
get the boat. He waded out with it. Ken saw that his end of this
business was going to be simple enough, but he had doubts as to what
would happen to the boys.

"Brace yourselves, now," he yelled. "When I drop her over she'll come
a-humming. Hang on if she drags you a mile!"

Wading out deeper Ken let the boat swing down with the current till the
stern projected over the fall. He had trouble in keeping his footing,
for the rock was slippery. Then with a yell he ran the stern far out
over the drop, bore down hard on the bow, and shoved off.

The boat shot out and down, to alight with a heavy souse. Then it leaped
into the swift current. George got his hands on it first, and went down
like a ninepin. The boat floated over him. The bow struck Hal, and would
have dragged him away had not Pepe laid powerful hands on the stern.
They waded to the lower ledge.

"Didn't ship a bucketful," said Hal. "Fine work, Ken."

"I got all the water," added the drenched and dripping George.

"Bail out, boys, and repack, while I look below," said Ken.

He went down-stream a little way to take a survey of the rapids. If
those rapids had been back in Pennsylvania, Ken felt that he could have
gone at them in delight. If the jungle country had been such that damage
to boat or supplies could have been remedied or replaced, these rapids
would not have appeared so bad. Ken walked up and down looking over the
long white inclines more than was wise, and he hesitated about going
into them. But it had to be done. So he went back to the boys. Then he
took the oars with gripping fingers.

"George, can you swim?" he asked.

"I'm a second cousin to a fish," replied George.

"All right. We're off. Now, if we upset, hang to the boat, if you can,
and hold up your legs. George, tell Pepe."

Ken backed the boat out from the shore. To his right in the middle of
the narrow river was a racy current that he kept out of as long as
possible. But presently he was drawn into it, and the boat shot forward,
headed into the first incline, and went racing smoothly down toward the
white waves of the rapids.

This was a trying moment for Ken. Grip as hard as he might, the
oar-handles slipped in his sweaty hands.

The boys were yelling, but Ken could not hear for the din of roaring
waters. The boat sailed down with swift, gliding motion. When it thumped
into the back-lash of the first big waves the water threshed around and
over the boys. Then they were in the thick of rush and roar. Ken knew he
was not handling the boat well. It grazed stones that should have been
easy to avoid, and bumped on hidden ones, and got half broadside to the
current. Pepe, by quick action with an oar, pushed the stern aside from
collision with more than one rock. Several times Ken missed a stroke
when a powerful one was needed. He passed between stones so close
together that he had to ship the oars. It was all rapid water, this
stretch, but the bad places, with sunken rocks, falls, and big waves,
were strung out at such distances apart that Ken had time to get the
boat going right before entering them.

Ken saw scarcely anything of the banks of the river. They blurred in his
sight. Sometimes they were near, sometimes far. The boat turned corners
where rocky ledges pointed out, constricting the stream and making a
curved channel. What lay around the curve was always a question and a
cause for suspense. Often the boat raced down a chute and straight
toward a rocky wall. Ken would pull back with all his might, and Pepe
would break the shock by striking the wall with his oar.

More than once Pepe had a narrow escape from being knocked overboard.
George tried to keep him from standing up. Finally at the end of a long
rapid, Pepe, who had the stern-seat, jumped up and yelled. Ken saw a
stone directly in the path of the boat, and he pulled back on the oars
with a quick, strong jerk. Pepe shot out of the stern as if he had been
flung from a catapult. He swam with the current while the boat drifted.
He reached smooth water and the shore before Ken could pick him up.

It was fun for everybody but Ken. There were three inches of water in
the boat. The canvas, however, had been arranged to protect guns, grips,
and supplies. George had been wet before he entered the rapids, so a
little additional water did not matter to him. Hal was almost as wet as
Pepe.

"I'm glad that's past," said Ken.

With that long rapid behind him he felt different. It was what he had
needed. His nervousness disappeared and he had no dread of the next
fall. While the boys bailed out the boat Ken rested and thought. He had
made mistakes in that rapid just passed. Luck had favored him. He went
over the mistakes and saw where he had been wrong, and how he could have
avoided them if he had felt right. Ken realized now that this was a
daredevil trip. And the daredevil in him had been shut up in dread. It
took just that nervous dread, and the hard work, blunders and accidents,
the danger and luck, to liberate the spirit that would make the trip a
success. Pepe and George were loud in their praises of Ken. But they did
not appreciate the real hazard of the undertaking, and if Hal did he was
too much of a wild boy to care.

"All aboard," called George.

Then they were on their way again. Ken found himself listening for
rapids. It was no surprise to hear a dull roar round the next bend. His
hair rose stiffly under his hat. But this time he did not feel the
chill, the uncertainty, the lack of confidence that had before weakened
him.

At the head of a long, shallow incline the boys tumbled overboard, Ken
and Hal at the bow, Pepe and George at the stern. They waded with the
bow up-stream. The water tore around their legs, rising higher and
higher. Soon Pepe and George had to climb in the boat, for the water
became so deep and swift they could not wade.

"Jump in, Hal," called Ken.

Then he held to the bow an instant longer, wading a little farther down.
This was ticklish business, and all depended upon Ken. He got the stern
of the boat straight in line with the channel he wanted to run, then he
leaped aboard and made for the oars. The boat sped down. At the bottom
of this incline was a mass of leaping green and white waves. The blunt
stern of the boat made a great splash and the water flew over the boys.
They came through the roar and hiss and spray to glide into a mill-race
current.

"Never saw such swift water!" exclaimed Ken.

This incline ended in a sullen plunge between two huge rocks. Ken saw
the danger long before it became evident to his companions. There was no
other way to shoot the rapid. He could not reach the shore. He must pass
between the rocks. Ken pushed on one oar, then on the other, till he got
the boat in line, and then he pushed with both oars. The boat flew down
that incline. It went so swiftly that if it had hit one of the rocks it
would have been smashed to kindling wood. Hal crouched low. George's
face was white. And Pepe leaned forward with his big arms outstretched,
ready to try to prevent a collision.

Down! down with the speed of the wind! The boat flashed between the
black stones. Then it was raised aloft, light as a feather, to crash
into the back-lashers. The din deafened Ken; the spray blinded him. The
boat seemed to split a white pall of water, then, with many a bounce,
drifted out of that rapid into little choppy waves, and from them into
another long, smooth runway.

Ken rested, and had nothing to say. Pepe shook his black head. Hal
looked at his brother. George had forgotten his rifle. No one spoke.

Soon Ken had more work on hand. For round another corner lay more fast
water. The boat dipped on a low fall, and went down into the midst of
green waves with here and there ugly rocks splitting the current. The
stream-bed was continually new and strange to Ken, and he had never seen
such queer formation of rocks. This rapid, however, was easy to
navigate. A slanting channel of swift water connected it with another
rapid. Ken backed into that one, passed through, only to face another.
And so it went for a long succession of shallow rapids.

A turn in the winding lane of cypresses revealed walls of gray, between
which the river disappeared.

"Aha!" muttered Ken.

"Ken, I'll bet this is the place you've been looking for," said Hal.

The absence of any roar of water emboldened Ken. Nearing the head of the
ravine, he stood upon the seat and looked ahead. But Ken could not see
many rods ahead. The ravine turned, and it was the deceiving turns in
the river that he had feared. What a strange sensation Ken had when he
backed the boat into the mouth of that gorge! He was forced against his
will. Yet there seemed to be a kind of blood-tingling pleasure in the
prospect.

The current caught the boat and drew it between the gray-green walls of
rock.

"It's coming to us," said the doubtful George.

The current ran all of six miles an hour. This was not half as fast as
the boys had traveled in rapids, but it appeared swift enough because of
the nearness of the overshadowing walls. In the shade the water took on
a different coloring. It was brown and oily. It slid along silently. It
was deep, and the swirling current suggested power. Here and there long,
creeping ferns covered the steep stone sides, and above ran a stream of
blue sky fringed by leaning palms. Once Hal put his hands to his lips
and yelled: "Hel-lo!" The yell seemed to rip the silence and began to
clap from wall to wall. It gathered quickness until it clapped in one
fiendish rattle. Then it wound away from the passage, growing fainter
and fainter, and at last died in a hollow echo.

"Don't do that again," ordered Ken.

He began to wish he could see the end of that gorge. But it grew
narrower, and the shade changed to twilight, and there were no long,
straight stretches. The river kept turning corners. Quick to note the
slightest change in conditions, Ken felt a breeze, merely a zephyr, fan
his hot face. The current had almost imperceptibly quickened. Yet it was
still silent. Then on the gentle wind came a low murmur. Ken's pulse
beat fast. Turning his ear down-stream, he strained his hearing. The low
murmur ceased. Perhaps he had imagined it. Still he kept listening.
There! Again it came, low, far away, strange. It might have been the
wind in the palms. But no, he could not possibly persuade himself it was
wind. And as that faint breeze stopped he lost the sound once more. The
river was silent, and the boat, and the boys--it was a silent ride. Ken
divined that his companions were enraptured. But this ride had no
beauty, no charm for him.

There! Another faint puff of wind, and again the low murmur! He fancied
it was louder. He was beginning to feel an icy dread when all was still
once more. So the boat drifted swiftly on with never a gurgle of water
about her gunwales. The river gleamed in brown shadows. Ken saw bubbles
rise and break on the surface, and there was a slight rise or swell of
the water toward the center of the channel. This bothered him. He could
not understand it. But then there had been many other queer formations
of rock and freaks of current along this river.

The boat glided on and turned another corner, the sharpest one yet. A
long, shadowy water-lane, walled in to the very skies, opened up to
Ken's keen gaze. The water here began to race onward, still wonderfully
silent. And now the breeze carried a low roar. It was changeable yet
persistent. It deepened.

Once more Ken felt his hair rise under his hat. Cold sweat wet his skin.
Despite the pounding of his heart and the throb of his veins, his blood
seemed to clog, to freeze, to stand still.

That roar was the roar of rapids. Impossible to go back! If there had
been four sets of oars, Ken and his comrades could not row the heavy
boat back up that swift, sliding river.

They must go on.



X

LOST!


"Ken, old man, do you hear that?" questioned Hal, waking from his
trance.

George likewise rose out of his lazy contentment. "Must be rapids," he
muttered. "If we strike rapids in this gorge it's all day with us. What
did I tell you!"

Pepe's dark, searching eyes rested on Ken.

But Ken had no word for any of them. He was fighting an icy
numbness, and the weakness of muscle and the whirl of his mind. It
was thought of responsibility that saved him from collapse.

"It's up to you, old man," said Hal, quietly.

In a moment like this the boy could not wholly be deceived.

Ken got a grip upon himself. He looked down the long, narrow lane
of glancing water. Some hundred yards on, it made another turn
round a corner, and from this dim curve came the roar. The current
was hurrying the boat toward it, but not fast enough to suit Ken.
He wanted to see the worst, to get into the thick of it, to overcome
it. So he helped the boat along. A few moments sufficed to cover
that gliding stretch of river, yet to Ken it seemed never to have an
end. The roar steadily increased. The current became still
stronger. Ken saw eruptions of water rising as from an explosion
beneath the surface. Whirlpools raced along with the boat. The
dim, high walls re-echoed the roaring of the water.

The first thing Ken saw when he sailed round that corner was a widening
of the chasm and bright sunlight ahead. Perhaps an eighth of a mile
below the steep walls ended abruptly. Next in quick glance he saw a
narrow channel of leaping, tossing, curling white-crested waves under
sunlighted mist and spray.

Pulling powerfully back and to the left Ken brought the boat alongside
the cliff. Then he shipped his oars.

"Hold hard," he yelled, and he grasped the stone. The boys complied, and
thus stopped the boat. Ken stood up on the seat. It was a bad place he
looked down into, but he could not see any rocks. And rocks were what he
feared most.

"Hold tight, boys," he said. Then he got Pepe to come to him and sit on
the seat. Ken stepped up on Pepe's shoulders and, by holding to the
rock, was able to get a good view of the rapid. It was not a rapid at
all, but a constriction of the channel, and also a steep slant. The
water rushed down so swiftly to get through that it swelled in the
center in a long frothy ridge of waves. The water was deep. Ken could
not see any bumps or splits or white-wreathed rocks, such as were
conspicuous in a rapid. The peril here for Ken was to let the boat hit
the wall or turn broadside or get out of that long swelling ridge.

He stepped down and turned to the white-faced boys. He had to yell close
to them to make them hear him in the roar.

"I--can--run--this--place. But--you've got--to help. Pull--the
canvas--up higher in the stern--and hold it."

Then he directed Pepe to kneel in the bow of the boat with an oar and be
ready to push off from the walls.

If Ken had looked again or hesitated a moment he would have lost his
nerve. He recognized that fact. And he shoved off instantly. Once the
boat had begun to glide down, gathering momentum, he felt his teeth
grind hard and his muscles grow tense. He had to bend his head from side
to side to see beyond the canvas George and Hal were holding round their
shoulders. He believed with that acting as a buffer in the stern he
could go pounding through those waves. Then he was in the middle of the
channel, and the boat fairly sailed along. Ken kept his oars poised,
ready to drop either one for a stroke. All he wanted was to enter those
foaming, tumultuous waves with his boat pointed right. He knew he could
not hope to see anything low down after he entered the race. He
calculated that the last instant would give him an opportunity to get
his direction in line with some object.

Then, even as he planned it, the boat dipped on a beautiful glassy
incline, and glided down toward the engulfing, roaring waves. Above
them, just in the center, Ken caught sight of the tufted top of a
palm-tree. That was his landmark!

The boat shot into a great, curling, back-lashing wave. There was a
heavy shock, a pause, and then Ken felt himself lifted high, while a
huge sheet of water rose fan-shape behind the buffer in the stern. Walls
and sky and tree faded under a watery curtain. Then the boat shot on
again; the light came, the sky shone, and Ken saw his palm-tree.

He pulled hard on the right oar to get the stern back in line. Another
heavy shock, a pause, a blinding shower of water, and then the downward
rush! Ken got a fleeting glimpse of his guiding mark, and sunk the left
oar deep for a strong stroke. The beating of the waves upon the upraised
oars almost threw him out of the boat. The wrestling waters hissed and
bellowed. Down the boat shot and up, to pound and pound, and then again
shoot down. Through the pall of mist and spray Ken always got a glimpse,
quick as lightning, of the palm-tree, and like a demon he plunged in his
oars to keep the boat in line. He was only dimly conscious of the
awfulness of the place. But he was not afraid. He felt his action as
being inspirited by something grim and determined. He was fighting the
river.

All at once a grating jar behind told him the bow had hit a stone or a
wall. He did not dare look back. The most fleeting instant of time might
be the one for him to see his guiding mark. Then the boat lurched under
him, lifted high with bow up, and lightened. He knew Pepe had been
pitched overboard.

In spite of the horror of the moment, Ken realized that the lightening
of the boat made it more buoyant, easier to handle. That weight in the
bow had given him an unbalanced craft. But now one stroke here and one
there kept the stern straight. The palm-tree loomed higher and closer
through the brightening mist. Ken no longer felt the presence of the
walls. The thunderous roar had begun to lose some of its volume. Then
with a crash through a lashing wave the boat raced out into the open
light. Ken saw a beautiful foam-covered pool, down toward which the boat
kept bumping over a succession of diminishing waves.

He gave a start of joy to see Pepe's black head bobbing in the choppy
channel. Pepe had beat the boat to the outlet. He was swimming easily,
and evidently he had not been injured.

Ken turned the bow toward him. But Pepe did not need any help, and a few
more strokes put him in shallow water. Ken discovered that the boat,
once out of the current, was exceedingly loggy and hard to row. It was
half full of water. Ken's remaining strength went to pull ashore, and
there he staggered out and dropped on the rocky bank.

The blue sky was very beautiful and sweet to look at just then. But Ken
had to close his eyes. He did not have strength left to keep them open.
For a while all seemed dim and obscure to him. Then he felt a dizziness,
which in turn succeeded to a racing riot of his nerves and veins. His
heart gradually resumed a normal beat, and his bursting lungs seemed to
heal. A sickening languor lay upon him. He could not hold little stones
which he felt under his fingers. He could not raise his hands. The life
appeared to have gone from his legs.

All this passed, at length, and, hearing Hal's voice, Ken sat up. The
outfit was drying in the sun; Pepe was bailing out the boat; George was
wiping his guns; and Hal was nursing a very disheveled little raccoon.

"You can bring on any old thing now, for all I care," said Hal. "I'd
shoot Lachine Rapids with Ken at the oars."

"He's a fine boatman," replied George. "Weren't you scared when we were
in the middle of that darned place?"

"Me? Naw!"

"Well, I was scared, and don't you forget it," said Ken to them.

"You were all in, Ken," replied Hal. "Never saw you so tuckered out. The
day you and Prince went after the cougar along that canyon
precipice--you were all in that time. George, it took Ken six hours to
climb out of that hole."

"Tell me about it," said George, all eyes.

"No stories now," put in Ken. "The sun is still high. We've got to be on
our way. Let's look over the lay of the land."

Below the pool was a bold, rocky bluff, round which the river split.
What branch to take was a matter of doubt and anxiety to Ken. Evidently
this bluff was an island. It had a yellow front and long bare ledges
leading into the river.

Ken climbed the bluff, accompanied by the boys, and found it covered
with palm-trees. Up there everything was so dry and hot that it did not
seem to be jungle at all. Even the palms were yellow and parched. Pepe
stood the heat, but the others could not endure it. Ken took one long
look at the surrounding country, so wild and dry and still, and then led
the way down the loose, dusty shelves.

Thereupon he surveyed the right branch of the river and followed it a
little distance. The stream here foamed and swirled among jagged rocks.
At the foot of this rapid stretched the first dead water Ken had
encountered for miles. A flock of wild geese rose from under his feet
and flew down-stream.

"Geese!" exclaimed Ken. "I wonder if that means we are getting down near
lagoons or big waters. George, wild geese don't frequent little streams,
do they?"

"There's no telling where you'll find them in this country," answered
George. "I've chased them right in our orange groves."

They returned to look at the left branch of the river. It was open and
one continuous succession of low steps. That would have decided Ken even
if the greater volume of water had not gone down on this left side. As
far as he could see was a wide, open river running over little ledges.
It looked to be the easiest and swiftest navigation he had come upon,
and so indeed it proved. The water was swift, and always dropped over
some ledge in a rounded fall that was safe for him to shoot. It was
great fun going over these places. The boys hung their feet over the
gunwales most of the time, sliding them along the slippery ledge or
giving a kick to help the momentum. When they came to a fall, Ken would
drop off the bow, hold the boat back and swing it straight, then jump
in, and over it would go--souse!

There were so many of these ledges, and they were so close together,
that going over them grew to be a habit. It induced carelessness. The
boat drifted to a brow of a fall full four feet high. Ken, who was at
the bow, leaped off just in time to save the boat. He held on while the
swift water surged about his knees. He yelled for the boys to jump. As
the stern where they sat was already over the fall it was somewhat
difficult to make the boys vacate quickly enough.

"Tumble out! Quick!" bawled Ken. "Do you think I'm Samson?"

Over they went, up to their necks in the boiling foam, and not a second
too soon, for Ken could hold the boat no longer. It went over smoothly,
just dipping the stern under water. If the boys had remained aboard, the
boat would have swamped. As it was, Pepe managed to catch the rope,
which Ken had wisely thrown out, and he drifted down to the next ledge.
Ken found this nearly as high as the last one. So he sent the boys below
to catch the boat. This worked all right. The shelves slanted slightly,
with the shallow part of the water just at the break of the ledge. They
passed half a dozen of these, making good time, and before they knew it
were again in a deep, smooth jungle lane with bamboo and streamers of
moss waving over them.

The shade was cool, and Ken settled down in the stern-seat, grateful for
a rest. To his surprise, he did not see a bird. The jungle was asleep.
Once or twice Ken fancied he heard the tinkle and gurgle of water
running over rocks. The boat glided along silently, with Pepe rowing
leisurely, George asleep, Hal dreaming.

Ken watched the beautiful green banks. They were high, a mass of
big-leafed vines, flowering and fragrant, above which towered the jungle
giants. Ken wanted to get out and study those forest trees. But he made
no effort to act upon his good intentions, and felt that he must take
the most of his forestry study at long range. He was reveling in the
cool recesses under the leaning cypresses, in the soft swish of bearded
moss, and the strange rustle of palms, in the dreamy hum of the resting
jungle, when his pleasure was brought to an abrupt end.

"Santa Maria!" yelled Pepe.

George woke up with a start. Hal had been jarred out of his day-dream,
and looked resentful. Ken gazed about him with the feeling of a man
going into a trance, instead of coming out of one.

The boat was fast on a mud-bank. That branch of the river ended right
there. The boys had come all those miles to run into a blind pocket.

Ken's glance at the high yellow bank, here crumbling and bare, told him
there was no outlet. He had a sensation of blank dismay.

"Gee!" exclaimed Hal, softly.

George rubbed his eyes; and, searching for a cigarette, he muttered:
"We're lost! I said it was coming to us. We've got to go back!"



XI

AN ARMY OF SNAKES


For a moment Ken Ward was utterly crushed under the weight of this
sudden blow. It was so sudden that he had no time to think; or his mind
was clamped on the idea of attempting to haul the boat up that long,
insurmountable series of falls.

"It'll be an awful job," burst out Hal.

No doubt in the mind of each boy was the same idea--the long haul,
wading over slippery rocks; the weariness of pushing legs against the
swift current; the packing of supplies uphill; and then the toil of
lifting the heavy boat up over a fall.

"Mucho malo," said Pepe, and he groaned. That was significant, coming
from a mozo, who thought nothing of rowing forty miles in a day.

"Oh, but it's tough luck," cried Ken. "Why didn't I choose the right
branch of this pesky river?"

"I think you used your head at that," said Hal. "Most of the water came
down on this side. Where did it go?"

Hal had hit the vital question, and it cleared Ken's brain.

"Hal, you're talking sense. Where did that water go? It couldn't all
have sunk into the earth. We'll find out. We won't try to go back. We
CAN'T go back."

Pepe shoved off the oozy mud, and, reluctantly, as if he appreciated the
dilemma, he turned the boat and rowed along the shore. As soon as Ken
had recovered somewhat he decided there must be an outlet which he had
missed. This reminded him that at a point not far back he had heard the
tinkle and gurgle of unseen water flowing over rocks.

He directed Pepe to row slowly along the bank that he thought was the
island side. As they glided under the drooping bamboos and silky
curtains of moss George began to call out: "Low bridge! Low bridge!" For
a boy who was forever voicing ill-omened suggestions as to what might
soon happen he was extraordinarily cheerful.

There were places where all had to lie flat and others where Pepe had to
use his machete. This disturbed the siesta of many aquatic birds, most
of which flew swiftly away. But there were many of the gray-breasted,
blue-backed bitterns that did not take to flight. These croaked
dismally, and looked down upon the boys with strange, protruding eyes.

"Those darn birds'll give me the willies," declared Hal. "George, you
just look like them when you croak about what's coming to us."

"Just wait!" retorted George. "It'll come, all right. Then I'll have the
fun of seeing you scared silly."

"What! You'll not do anything of the kind!" cried Hal, hotly. "I've been
in places where such--such a skinny little sap-head as you--"

"Here, you kids stop wrangling," ordered Ken, who sensed hostilities in
the air. "We've got trouble enough."

Suddenly Ken signaled Pepe to stop rowing.

"Boys, I hear running water. Aha! Here's a current. See--it's making
right under this bank."

Before them was a high wall of broad-leaved vines, so thick that nothing
could be seen through them. Apparently this luxuriant canopy concealed
the bank. Pepe poked an oar into it, but found nothing solid.

"Pepe, cut a way through. We've got to see where this water runs."

It was then that Ken came to a full appreciation of a machete. He had
often fancied it a much less serviceable tool than an ax. Pepe flashed
the long, bright blade up, down, and around, and presently the boat was
its own length in a green tunnel. Pepe kept on slashing while Ken poled
the boat in and the other boys dumped the cut foliage overboard. Soon
they got through this mass of hanging vine and creeper. Much to Ken's
surprise and delight, he found no high bank, but low, flat ground,
densely wooded, through which ran a narrow, deep outlet of the river.

"By all that's lucky!" ejaculated Ken.

George and Hal whooped their pleasure, and Pepe rubbed his muscular
hands. Then all fell silent. The deep, penetrating silence of that
jungle was not provocative of speech. The shade was so black that when a
ray of sunlight did manage to pierce the dense canopy overhead it
resembled a brilliant golden spear. A few lofty palms and a few clumps
of bamboo rather emphasized the lack of these particular species in this
forest. Nor was there any of the familiar streaming moss hanging from
the trees. This glen was green, cool, dark. It did not smell exactly
swampy, but rank, like a place where many water plants were growing.

The outlet was so narrow that Ken was not able to use the oars. Still,
as the current was swift, the boat went along rapidly. He saw a light
ahead and heard the babble of water. The current quickened, and the boat
drifted suddenly upon the edge of an oval glade, where the hot sun beat
down. A series of abrupt mossy benches, over which the stream slid
almost noiselessly, blocked further progress.

The first thing about this glade that Ken noted particularly, after the
difficulties presented by the steep steps, was the multitude of snakes
sunning themselves along the line of further progress.

"Boys, it'll be great wading down there, hey?" he queried.

Pepe grumbled for the first time on the trip. Ken gathered from the
native's looks and speech that he did not like snakes.

"Watch me peg 'em!" yelled Hal, and he began to throw stones with
remarkable accuracy. "Hike, you brown sons-of-guns!"

George, not to be outdone, made a dive for his .22 and began to pop as
if he had no love for snakes. Ken had doubts about this species. The
snakes were short, thick, dull brown in color, and the way they slipped
into the stream proved they were water-snakes. Ken had never read of a
brown water-moccasin, so he doubted that these belonged to that
poisonous family. Anyway, snakes were the least of his troubles.

"Boys, you're doing fine," he said. "There are about a thousand snakes
there, and you've hit about six."

He walked down through the glade into the forest, and was overjoyed to
hear once more the heavy roar of rapids. He went on. The timber grew
thinner, and light penetrated the jungle. Presently he saw the gleam of
water through the trees. Then he hurried back.

"All right, boys," he shouted. "Here's the river."

The boys were so immensely relieved that packing the outfit round the
waterfalls was work they set about with alacrity. Ken, who had on his
boots, broke a trail through the ferns and deep moss. Pepe, being
barefoot, wasted time looking for snakes. George teased him. But Pepe
was deadly serious. And the way he stepped and looked made Ken
thoughtful. He had made his last trip with supplies, and was about to
start back to solve the problem of getting the boat down, when a hoarse
yell resounded through the sleeping jungle. Parrots screeched, and other
birds set up a cackling.

Ken bounded up the slope.

"Santa Maria!" cried Pepe.

Ken followed the direction indicated by Pepe's staring eyes and
trembling finger. Hanging from a limb of a tree was a huge black-snake.
It was as thick as Ken's leg. The branch upon which it poised its neck
so gracefully was ten feet high, and the tail curled into the ferns on
the ground.

"Boys, it's one of the big fellows," cried Ken.

"Didn't I tell you!" yelled George, running down for his gun.

Hal seemed rooted to the spot. Pepe began to jabber. Ken watched the
snake, and felt instinctively from its sinister looks that it was
dangerous. George came running back with his .32 and waved it in the air
as he shot. He was so frightened that he forgot to aim. Ken took the
rifle from him.

"You can't hit him with this. Run after your shotgun. Quick!"

But the sixteen-gage was clogged with a shell that would not eject.
Ken's guns were in their cases.

"Holy smoke!" cried George. "He's coming down."

The black-snake moved his body and began to slide toward the tree-trunk.

Ken shot twice at the head of the snake. It was a slow-swaying mark hard
to hit. The reptile stopped and poised wonderfully on the limb. He was
not coiled about it, but lay over it with about four feet of neck
waving, swaying to and fro. He watched the boys, and his tongue, like a
thin, black streak, darted out viciously.

Ken could not hit the head, so he sent a bullet through the thick part
of the body. Swift as a gleam the snake darted from the limb.

"Santa Maria!" yelled Pepe, and he ran off.

"Look out, boys," shouted Ken. He picked up Pepe's machete and took to
his heels. George and Hal scrambled before him. They ran a hundred yards
or more, and Ken halted in an open rocky spot. He was angry, and a
little ashamed that he had run. The snake did not pursue, and probably
was as badly frightened as the boys had been. Pepe stopped some distance
away, and Hal and George came cautiously back.

"I don't see anything of him," said Ken. "I'm going back."

He walked slowly, keeping a sharp outlook, and, returning to the glade,
found blood-stains under the tree. The snake had disappeared without
leaving a trail.

"If I'd had my shotgun ready!" exclaimed Ken, in disgust. And he made a
note that in the future he would be prepared to shoot.

"Wasn't he a whopper, Ken?" said Hal. "We ought to have got his hide.
What a fine specimen!"

"Boys, you drive away those few little snakes while I figure on a way to
get the boat down."

"Not on your life!" replied Hal.

George ably sustained Hal's objection.

"Mucho malo," said Pepe, and then added a loud "No" in English.

"All right, my brave comrades," rejoined Ken, scornfully. "As I've not
done any work yet or taken any risks, I'll drive the snakes away."

With Pepe's machete he cut a long forked pole, trimmed it, and, armed
with this weapon, he assaulted the rolls and bands and balls of brown
snakes. He stalked boldly down upon them, pushed and poled, and even
kicked them off the mossy banks. Hal could not stand that, and presently
he got a pole and went to Ken's assistance.

"Who's hollering now?" he yelled to George.

Whereupon George cut a long branch and joined the battle. They whacked
and threshed and pounded, keeping time with yells. Everywhere along the
wet benches slipped and splashed the snakes. But after they were driven
into the water they did not swim away. They dove under the banks and
then stretched out their pointed heads from the dripping edge of moss.

"Say, fellows, we're making it worse for us," declared Ken. "See, the
brown devils won't swim off. We'd better have left them on the bank.
Let's catch one and see if he'll bite."

He tried to pick up one on his pole, but it slipped off. George fished
after another. Hal put the end of his stick down inside the coil of
still another and pitched it. The brown, wriggling, wet snake shot
straight at the unsuspecting George, and struck him and momentarily
wound about him.

"Augrrh!" bawled George, flinging off the reptile and leaping back.
"What'd you do that for? I'll punch you!"

"George, he didn't mean it," said Ken. "It was an accident. Come on,
let's tease that fellow and see if he'll bite."

The snake coiled and raised his flat head and darted a wicked tongue out
and watched with bright, beady eyes, but he did not strike. Ken went as
close as he thought safe and studied the snake.

"Boys, his head isn't a triangle, and there are no little pits under his
eyes. Those are two signs of a poisonous snake. I don't believe this
fellow's one."

"He'll be a dead snake, b'gosh," replied George, and he fell to pounding
it with his pole.

"Don't smash him. I want the skin," yelled Hal.

Ken pondered on the situation before him.

"Come, the sooner we get at this the better," he said.

There was a succession of benches through which the stream zigzagged and
tumbled. These benches were rock ledges over which moss had grown fully
a foot thick, and they were so oozy and slippery that it was no easy
task to walk upon them. Then they were steep, so steep that it was
remarkable how the water ran over them so smoothly, with very little
noise or break. It was altogether a new kind of waterfall to Ken. But if
the snakes had not been hidden there, navigation would have presented an
easier problem.

"Come on boys, alongside now, and hold back," he ordered, gripping the
bow.

Exactly what happened the next few seconds was not clear in his mind.
There was a rush, and all were being dragged by the boat. The glade
seemed to whizz past. There were some sodden thumps, a great splashing,
a check--and lo! they were over several benches. It was the quickest and
easiest descent he had ever made down a steep waterfall.

"Fine!" ejaculated George, wiping the ooze from his face.

"Yes, it was fine," Ken replied. "But unless this boat has wings
something'll happen soon."

Below was a long, swift curve of water, very narrow and steep, with a
moss-covered rock dividing the lower end. Ken imagined if there was a
repetition of the first descent the boat would be smashed on that rock.
He ordered Pepe, who was of course the strongest, to go below and jump
to the rock. There he might prevent a collision.

Pepe obeyed, but as he went he yelled and doubled up in contortions as
he leaped over snakes in the moss.

Then gently, gingerly the boys started the boat off the bench, where it
had lodged. George was at the stern, Ken and Hal at the bow. Suddenly
Hal shrieked and jumped straight up, to land in the boat.

"Snakes!" he howled.

"Give us a rest!" cried Ken, in disgust.

The boat moved as if instinct with life. It dipped, then--WHEEZE! it
dove over the bench. Hal was thrown off his feet, fell back on the
gunwale, and thence into the snaky moss. George went sprawling face
downward into the slimy ooze, and Ken was jerked clear off the bench
into the stream. He got his footing and stood firm in water to his
waist, and he had the bow-rope coiled round his hands.

"Help! Help!" he yelled, as he felt the dragging weight too much for
him.

If Ken retarded the progress of the boat at all, it was not much. George
saw his distress and the danger menacing the boat, and he leaped
valiantly forward. As he dashed down a slippery slant his feet flew up
higher than where his head had been; he actually turned over in the air,
and fell with a great sop.

Hal had been trying to reach Ken, but here he stopped and roared with
laughter.

Despite Ken's anger and fear of snakes, and his greater fear for the
boat, he likewise had to let out a peal of laughter. That tumble of
George's was great. Then Ken's footing gave way and he went down. His
mouth filled with nasty water, nearly strangling him. He was almost
blinded, too. His arms seemed to be wrenched out of their sockets, and
he felt himself bumping over moss-covered rocks as soft as cushions.
Slimy ropes or roots of vegetation, that felt like snakes, brushed his
face and made him cold and sick. It was impossible to hold the boat any
longer. He lodged against a stone, and the swift water forced him upon
it. Blinking and coughing, he stuck fast.

Ken saw the boat headed like a dart for the rock where Pepe stood.

"Let 'er go!" yelled Ken. "Don't try to stop her. Pepe, you'll be
smashed!"

Pepe acted like a man determined to make up for past cowardice. He made
a great show of brave intentions. He was not afraid of a boat. He braced
himself and reached out with his brawny arms. Ken feared for the
obstinate native's life, for the boat moved with remarkable velocity.

At the last second Pepe's courage vanished. He turned tail to get out of
the way. But he slipped. The boat shot toward him and the blunt stern
struck him with a dull thud. Pepe sailed into the air, over the rock,
and went down cleaving the water.

The boat slipped over the stone as easily as if it had been a wave and,
gliding into still water below, lodged on the bank.

Ken crawled out of the stream, and when he ascertained that no one was
injured he stretched himself on the ground and gave up to mirth. Pepe
resembled a drowned rat; Hal was an object to wonder at; and George, in
his coating of slime and with strings of moss in his hair, was the
funniest thing Ken had ever seen. It was somewhat of a surprise to him
to discover, presently, that the boys were convulsed with fiendish glee
over the way he himself looked.

By and by they recovered, and, with many a merry jest and chuckle of
satisfaction, they repacked the boat and proceeded on their way. No
further obstacle hindered them. They drifted out of the shady jungle
into the sunlit river.

In half a mile of drifting the heat of the sun dried the boys' clothes.
The water was so hot that it fairly steamed. Once more the boat entered
a placid aisle over which the magnificent gray-wreathed cypresses bowed,
and the west wind waved long ribbons of moss, and wild fowl winged
reluctant flight.

Ken took advantage of this tranquil stretch of river to work on his map.
He realized that he must use every spare moment and put down his
drawings and notes as often as time and travel permitted. It had dawned
on Ken that rapids and snakes, and all the dangers along the river, made
his task of observation and study one apt to be put into eclipse at
times. Once or twice he landed on shore to climb a bluff, and was
pleased each time to see that he had lined a comparatively true course
on his map. He had doubts of its absolute accuracy, yet he could not
help having pride in his work. So far so good, he thought, and hoped for
good-fortune farther down the river.



XII

CATCHING STRANGE FISH


Beyond a bend in the river the boys came upon an island with a narrow,
shaded channel on one side, a wide shoal on the other, and a group of
huge cypresses at the up-stream end.

"Looks good to me," said Hal.

The instant Ken saw the island he knew it was the place he had long been
seeking to make a permanent camp for a few days. They landed, to find an
ideal camping site. The ground under the cypresses was flat, dry, and
covered with short grass. Not a ray of sunlight penetrated the foliage.
A pile of driftwood had lodged against one of the trees, and this made
easy the question of fire-wood.

"Great!" exclaimed Ken. "Come on, let's look over the ground."

The island was about two hundred yards long, and the lower end was
hidden by a growth of willows. Bursting through this, the boys saw a
weedy flat leading into a wide, shallow back-eddy. Great numbers of
ducks were sporting and feeding. The stones of the rocky shore were
lined with sleeping ducks. Herons of all colors and sizes waded about,
or slept on one leg. Snipe ran everywhere. There was a great squawking
and flapping of wings. But at least half the number of waterfowl were
too tame or too lazy to fly.

Ken returned to camp with his comrades, all highly elated over the
prospects. The best feature about this beautiful island was the absence
of ticks and snakes.

"Boys, this is the place," said Ken. "We'll hang up here for a while.
Maybe we won't strike another such nice place to stay."

So they unloaded the boat, taking everything out, and proceeded to pitch
a camp that was a delight. They were all loud in expressions of
satisfaction. Then Pepe set about leisurely peeling potatoes; George
took his gun and slipped off toward the lower end of the island; Hal
made a pen for his raccoon, and then more pens, as if he meant to
capture a menagerie; and Ken made a comfortable lounging-bed under a
cypress. He wanted to forget that nagging worry as to farther descent of
the river, and to enjoy this place.

"Bang!" went George's sixteen-gage. A loud whirring of wings followed,
and the air was full of ducks.

"Never touched one!" yelled Hal, in taunting voice.

A flock of teal skimmed the water and disappeared up-stream. The shot
awakened parrots in the trees, where for a while there was clamor. Ken
saw George wade out into the shoal and pick up three ducks.

"Pot-shot!" exclaimed Hal, disgustedly. "Why couldn't he be a sport and
shoot them on the fly?"

George crossed to the opposite shore and, climbing a bare place, stood
looking before him.

"Hey, George, don't go far," called Ken.

"Fine place over here," replied George, and, waving his hand, he passed
into the bushes out of sight.

Ken lay back upon his blanket with a blissful sense of rest and
contentment. Many a time he had lain so, looking up through the broad
leaves of a sycamore or the lacy foliage of a birch or the delicate
crisscross of millions of pine needles. This overhead canopy, however,
was different. Only here and there could he catch little slivers of blue
sky. The graceful streamers of exquisite moss hung like tassels of
silver. In the dead stillness of noonday they seemed to float curved in
the shape in which the last soft breeze had left them. High upon a
branch he saw a redheaded parrot hanging back downward, after the
fashion of a monkey. Then there were two parrots asleep in the fork of a
branch. It was the middle of the day, and all things seemed tired and
sleepy. The deep channel murmured drowsily, and the wide expanse of
river on the other side lapped lazily at the shore. The only other sound
was the mourning of turtle-doves, one near and another far away. Again
the full richness, the mellow sweetness of this song struck Ken
forcibly. He remembered that all the way down the river he had heard
that mournful note. It was beautiful but melancholy. Somehow it made him
think that it had broken the dreamy stillness of the jungle noonday
long, long ago. It was sweet but sad and old. He did not like to hear
it.

Ken yielded to the soothing influence of the hour and fell asleep. When
he awoke there was George, standing partially undressed and very soberly
popping ticks. He had enlisted the services of Pepe, and, to judge from
the remarks of both, they needed still more assistance.

"Say, Garrapato George, many ticks over there?"

"Ticks!" shouted George, wildly, waving his cigarette. "Millions of 'em!
And there's--ouch! Kill that one, Pepe. Wow! he's as big as a penny.
There's game over there. It's a flat with some kind of berry bush.
There's lots of trails. I saw cat-tracks, and I scared up wild
turkeys--"

"Turkeys!" Ken exclaimed, eagerly.

"You bet. I saw a dozen. How they can run! I didn't flush them. Then I
saw a flock of those black and white ducks, like the big fellow I shot.
They were feeding. I believe they're Muscovy ducks."

"I'm sure I don't know, but we can call them that."

"Well, I'd got a shot, too, but I saw some gray things sneaking in the
bushes. I thought they were pigs, so I got out of there quick."

"You mean javelin?"

"Yep, I mean wild pigs. Oh! We've struck the place for game. I'll bet
it's coming to us."

When George anticipated pleasurable events he was the most happy of
companions. It was good to look forward. He was continually expecting
things to happen; he was always looking ahead with great eagerness. But
unfortunately he had a twist of mind toward the unfavorable side of
events, and so always had the boys fearful.

"Well, pigs or no pigs, ticks or no ticks, we'll hunt and fish, and see
all there is to see," declared Ken, and he went back to his lounging.

When he came out of that lazy spell, George and Hal were fishing. George
had Ken's rod, and it happened to be the one Ken thought most of.

"Do you know how to fish?" he asked.

"I've caught tarpon bigger'n you," retorted George.

That fact was indeed too much for Ken, and he had nothing to do but risk
his beloved rod in George's hands. And the way George swung it about,
slashed branches with it, dropped the tip in the water, was exceedingly
alarming to Ken. The boy would break the tip in a minute. Yet Ken could
not take his rod away from a boy who had caught tarpon.

There were fish breaking water. Where a little while before the river
had been smooth, now it was ruffled by ravalo, gar, and other fish Pepe
could not name. But George and Hal did not get a bite. They tried all
their artificial flies and spoons and minnows, then the preserved
mullet, and finally several kinds of meat.

"Bah! they want pie," said Hal.

For Ken Ward to see little and big fish capering around under his very
nose and not be able to hook one was exasperating. He shot a small fish,
not unlike a pickerel, and had the boys bait with that. Still no strike
was forthcoming.

This put Ken on his mettle. He rigged up a minnow tackle, and, going to
the lower end of the island, he tried to catch some minnows. There were
plenty of them in the shallow water, but they would not bite. Finally
Ken waded in the shoal and turned over stones. He found some snails
almost as large as mussels, and with these he hurried back to the boys.

"Here, if you don't get a bite on one of these I'm no fisherman," said
Ken. "Try one."

George got his hands on the new bait in advance of Hal and so threw his
hook into the water first. No sooner had the bait sunk than he got a
strong pull.

"There! Careful now," said Ken.

George jerked up, hooking a fish that made the rod look like a
buggy-whip.

"Give me the rod," yelled Ken, trying to take it.

"It's my fish," yelled back George.

He held on and hauled with all his might. A long, finely built fish,
green as emerald, split the water and churned it into foam. Then,
sweeping out in strong dash, it broke Ken's rod square in the middle.
Ken eyed the wreck with sorrow, and George with no little disapproval.

"You said you knew how to fish," protested Ken.

"Those split-bamboo rods are no good," replied George. "They won't hold
a fish."

"George, you're a grand fisherman!" observed Hal, with a chuckle. "Why,
you only dreamed you've caught tarpon."

Just then Hal had a tremendous strike. He was nearly hauled off the
bank. But he recovered his balance and clung to his nodding rod. Hal's
rod was heavy cane, and his line was thick enough to suit. So nothing
broke. The little brass reel buzzed and rattled.

"I've got a whale!" yelled Hal.

"It's a big gar--alligator-gar," said George. "You haven't got him. He's
got you."

The fish broke water, showing long, open jaws with teeth like saw-teeth.
It threshed about and broke away. Hal reeled in to find the hook
straightened out. Then George kindly commented upon the very skilful
manner in which Hal had handled the gar. For a wonder Hal did not reply.

By four o'clock, when Ken sat down to supper, he was so thirsty that his
mouth puckered as dry as if he had been eating green persimmons. This
matter of thirst had become serious. Twice each day Ken had boiled a pot
of water, into which he mixed cocoa, sugar, and condensed milk, and
begged the boys to drink that and nothing else. Nevertheless Pepe and
George, and occasionally Hal, would drink unboiled water. For this meal
the boys had venison and duck, and canned vegetables and fruit, so they
fared sumptuously.

Pepe pointed to a string of Muscovy ducks sailing up the river. George
had a good shot at the tail end of the flock, and did not even loosen a
feather. Then a line of cranes and herons passed over the island. When a
small bunch of teal flew by, to be followed by several canvasbacks, Ken
ran for his shotgun. It was a fine hammerless, a hard-shooting gun, and
one Ken used for grouse-hunting. In his hurry he grasped a handful of
the first shells he came to and, when he ran to the river-bank, found
they were loads of small shot. He decided to try them anyhow.

While Pepe leisurely finished the supper Ken and George and Hal sat on
the bank watching for ducks. Just before the sun went down a hard wind
blew, making difficult shooting. Every few moments ducks would whir by.
George's gun missed fire often, and when it did work all right, he
missed the ducks. To Ken's surprise he found the load of small shot very
deadly. He could sometimes reach a duck at eighty yards. The little
brown ducks and teal he stopped as if they had hit a stone wall. He
dropped a canvasback with the sheer dead plunge that he liked. Ken
thought a crippled duck enough to make a hunter quit shooting. With six
ducks killed, he decided to lay aside his gun for that time, when Pepe
pointed down the river.

"Pato real," he said.

Ken looked eagerly and saw three of the big black ducks flying as high
as the tree-tops and coming fast. Snapping a couple of shells in the
gun, Ken stood ready. At the end of the island two of the ducks wheeled
to the left, but the big leader came on like a thunderbolt. To Ken he
made a canvas-back seem slow. Ken caught him over the sights of the gun,
followed him up till he was abreast and beyond; then, sweeping a little
ahead of him, Ken pulled both triggers. The Muscovy swooped up and
almost stopped in his flight while a cloud of black feathers puffed away
on the wind. He sagged a little, recovered, and flew on as strong as
ever. The small shot were not heavy enough to stop him.

"We'll need big loads for the Muscovies and the turkeys," said George.

"We've all sizes up to BB's," replied Ken. "George, let's take a walk
over there where you saw the turkeys. It's early yet."

Then Pepe told George if they wanted to see game at that hour the thing
to do was to sit still in camp and watch the game come down to the river
to drink. And he pointed down-stream to a herd of small deer quietly
walking out on the bar.

"After all the noise we made!" exclaimed Ken. "Well, this beats me.
George, we'll stay right here and not shoot again to-night. I've an idea
we'll see something worth while."

It was Pepe's idea, but Ken instantly saw its possibilities. There were
no tributaries to the river or springs in that dry jungle, and, as
manifestly the whole country abounded in game, it must troop down to the
river in the cool of the evening to allay the hot day's thirst. The boys
were perfectly situated for watching the dark bank on the channel side
of the island as well as the open bars on the other. The huge cypresses
cast shadows that even in daylight effectually concealed them. They put
out the camp-fire and, taking comfortable seats in the folds of the
great gnarled roots, began to watch and listen.

The vanguard of thirsty deer had prepared Ken for something remarkable,
and he was in no wise disappointed. The trooping of deer down to the
water's edge and the flight of wild fowl up-stream increased in
proportion to the gathering shadows of twilight. The deer must have got
a scent, for they raised their long ears and stood still as statues,
gazing across toward the upper end of the island. But they showed no
fear. It was only when they had drunk their fill and wheeled about to go
up the narrow trails over the bank that they showed uneasiness and
haste. This made Ken wonder if they were fearful of being ambushed by
jaguars. Soon the dark line of deer along the shore shaded into the
darkness of night. Then Ken heard soft splashes and an occasional patter
of hard hoofs. The whir of wings had ceased.

A low exclamation from Pepe brought attention to interesting
developments closer at hand.

"Javelin!" he whispered.

On the channel side of the island was impenetrable pitchy blackness. Ken
tried to pierce it with straining eyes, but he could not even make out
the shore-line that he knew was only ten yards distant. Still he could
hear, and that was thrilling enough. Everywhere on this side, along the
edge of the water and up the steep bank, were faint tickings of twigs
and soft rustlings of leaves. Then there was a continuous sound, so low
as to be almost inaudible, that resembled nothing Ken could think of so
much as a long line of softly dripping water. It swelled in volume to a
tiny roll, and ended in a sharp clicking on rocks and a gentle splashing
in the water. A drove of javelin had come down to drink. Occasionally
the glint of green eyes made the darkness all the more weird. Suddenly a
long, piercing wail, a keen cry almost human, quivered into the silence.

"Panther!" Ken whispered, instantly, to the boys. It was a different cry
from that of the lion of the canyon, but there was a strange wild note
that betrayed the species. A stillness fell, dead as that of a
subterranean cavern. Strain his ears as he might, Ken could not detect
the slightest sound. It was as if no javelin or any other animals had
come down to drink. That listening, palpitating moment seemed endless.
What mystery of wild life it meant, that silence following the cry of
the panther! Then the jungle sounds recommenced--the swishing of water,
the brushing in the thicket, stealthy padded footsteps, the faint
snapping of twigs. Some kind of a cat uttered an unearthly squall. Close
upon this the clattering of deer up the bank on the other side rang out
sharply. The deer were running, and the striking of the little hoofs
ceased in short order. Ken listened intently. From far over the bank
came a sound not unlike a cough--deep, hoarse, inexpressibly wild and
menacing.

"Tigre!" cried Pepe, gripping Ken hard with both hands. He could feel
him trembling. It showed how the native of the jungle-belt feared the
jaguar.

Again the cough rasped out, nearer and louder this time. It was not a
courage-provoking sound, and seemed on second thought more of a growl
than a cough. Ken felt safe on the island; nevertheless, he took up his
rifle.

"That's a tiger," whispered George. "I heard one once from the porch of
the Alamitas hacienda."

A third time the jaguar told of his arrival upon the night scene. Ken
was excited, and had a thrill of fear. He made up his mind to listen
with clearer ears, but the cough or growl was not repeated.

Then a silence set in, so unbroken that it seemed haunted by the echoes
of those wild jungle cries. Perhaps Ken had the haunting echoes in mind.
He knew what had sent the deer away and stilled the splashings and
creepings. It was the hoarse voice of the lord of the jungle.

Pepe and the boys, too, fell under the spell of the hour. They did not
break the charm by talking. Giant fireflies accentuated the ebony
blackness and a low hum of insects riveted the attention on the
stillness. Ken could not understand why he was more thoughtful on this
trip than he had ever been before. Somehow he felt immeasurably older.
Probably that was because it had seemed necessary for him to act like a
man, even if he was only a boy.

The black mantle of night lifted from under the cypresses, leaving a
gloom that slowly paled. Through the dark foliage, low down over the
bank, appeared the white tropical moon. Shimmering gleams chased the
shadows across the ripples, and slowly the river brightened to a silver
sheen.

A great peace fell upon the jungle world. How white, how wild, how
wonderful! It only made the island more beautiful and lonely. The
thought of leaving it gave Ken Ward a pang. Almost he wished he were a
savage.

And he lay there thinking of the wild places that he could never see,
where the sun shone, the wind blew, the twilight shadowed, the rain
fell; where the colors and beauties changed with the passing hours;
where a myriad of wild creatures preyed upon each other and night never
darkened but upon strife and death.



XIII

A TURKEY-HUNT


Upon awakening in the early morning Ken found his state one of huge
enjoyment. He was still lazily tired, but the dead drag and ache had
gone from his bones. A cool breeze wafted the mist from the river,
breaking it up into clouds, between which streamed rosy shafts of
sunlight. Wood-smoke from the fire Pepe was starting blew fragrantly
over him. A hundred thousand birds seemed to be trying to burst their
throats. The air was full of music. He lay still, listening to this
melodious herald of the day till it ceased.

Then a flock of parrots approached and circled over the island,
screeching like a band of flying imps. Presently they alighted in the
cypresses, bending the branches to a breaking-point and giving the trees
a spotted appearance of green and red. Pepe waved his hand toward
another flock sweeping over.

"Parrakeets," he said.

These birds were a solid green, much smaller than the red-heads, with
longer tails. They appeared wilder than the red-heads, and flew higher,
circling the same way and screeching, but they did not alight. Other
flocks sailed presently from all directions. The last one was a cloud of
parrots, a shining green and yellow mass several acres in extent. They
flew still higher than the parrakeets.

"Yellow-heads!" shouted George. "They're the big fellows, the talkers.
If there ain't a million of 'em!"

The boys ate breakfast in a din that made conversation useless. The
red-heads swooped down upon the island, and the two unfriendly species
flew back and forth, manifestly trying to drive the boys off. The mist
had blown away, the sun was shining bright, when the myriad of parrots,
in large and small flocks, departed to other jungle haunts.

Pepe rowed across the wide shoal to the sand-bars. There in the soft
ooze, among the hundreds of deer-tracks, Ken found a jaguar-track larger
than his spread hand. It was different from a lion-track, yet he could
not distinguish just what the difference was. Pepe, who had accompanied
the boys to carry the rifles and game, pointed to the track and said,
vehemently:

"Tigre!" He pronounced it "tee-gray." And he added, "Grande!"

"Big he certainly is," Ken replied. "Boys, we'll kill this jaguar. We'll
bait this drinking-trail with a deer carcass and watch tonight."

Once upon the bank, Ken was surprised to see a wide stretch of
comparatively flat land. It was covered with a low vegetation, with here
and there palm-trees on the little ridges and bamboo clumps down in the
swales. Beyond the flat rose the dark line of dense jungle. It was not
clear to Ken why that low piece of ground was not overgrown with the
matted thickets and vines and big trees characteristic of other parts of
the jungle.

They struck into one of the trails, and had not gone a hundred paces
when they espied a herd of deer. The grass and low bushes almost covered
them. George handed his shotgun to Pepe and took his rifle.

"Shoot low," said Ken.

George pulled the trigger, and with the report a deer went down, but it
was not the one Ken was looking at, nor the one at which he believed
George had aimed. The rest of the herd bounded away, to disappear in a
swale. Wading through bushes and grass, they found George's quarry, a
small deer weighing perhaps sixty pounds. Pepe carried it over to the
trail. Ken noted that he was exceedingly happy to carry the rifles. They
went on at random, somehow feeling that, no matter in what direction,
they would run into something to shoot at.

The first bamboo swale was alive with chicalocki. Up to this time Ken
had not seen this beautiful pheasant fly in the open, and he was
astonished at its speed. It would burst out of the thick bamboo, whir
its wings swiftly, then sail. That sail was a most graceful thing to
see. George pulled his 16-gage twice, and missed both times. He had the
beginner's fault--shooting too soon. Presently Pepe beat a big cock
chicalocki out of the bush. He made such a fine target, he sailed so
evenly, that Ken simply looked at him over the gun-sights and followed
him till he was out of sight. The next one he dropped like a plummet.
Shooting chicalocki was too easy, he decided; they presented so fair a
mark that it was unfair to pull on them.

George was an impetuous hunter. Ken could not keep near him, nor coax or
command him to stay near. He would wander off by himself. That was one
mark in his favor; at least he had no fear. Pepe hung close to Ken and
Hal, with his dark eyes roving everywhere. Ken climbed out on one side
of the swale, George on the other. Catching his whistle, Ken turned to
look after him. He waved, and, pointing ahead, began to stoop and slip
along from bush to bush. Presently a flock of Muscovy ducks rose before
him, sailed a few rods, and alighted. Then from right under his feet
labored up great gray birds. Wild geese! Ken recognized them as George's
gun went BANG! One tumbled over, the others wheeled toward the river.
Ken started down into the swale to cross to where George was, when Pepe
touched his arm.

"Turkeys!" he whispered.

That changed Ken's mind. Pepe pointed into the low bushes ahead and
slowly led Ken forward. He heard a peculiar low thumping. Trails led
everywhere, and here and there were open patches covered with a scant
growth of grass. Across one of these flashed a bronze streak, then
another and another.

"Shoot! Shoot!" said Pepe, tensely.

Those bronze streaks were running turkeys! The thumpings were made by
their rapidly moving feet!

"Don't they flush--fly?" Ken queried of Pepe.

"No--no--shoot!" exclaimed he, as another streak of brown crossed an
open spot. Ken hurriedly unbreached his gun and changed the light shells
for others loaded with heavy shot. He reached the edge of a bare spot
across which a turkey ran with incredible swiftness. He did not get the
gun in line with it at all. Then two more broke out of the bushes. Run!
They were as swift as flying quail. Ken took two snap-shots, and missed
both times. If any one had told him that he would miss a running turkey
at fifty feet, he would have been insulted. But he did not loosen a
feather. Loading again, he yelled for George.

"Hey, George--turkeys!"

He whooped, and started across on the run.

"Gee!" said Hal. "Ken, I couldn't do any worse shooting than you. Let me
take a few pegs."

Ken handed over the heavy gun and fell back a little, giving Hal the
lead. They walked on, peering closely into the bushes. Suddenly a
beautiful big gobbler ran out of a thicket, and then stopped to stretch
out his long neck and look.

"Shoot--hurry!" whispered Ken. "What a chance!"

"That's a tame turkey," said Hal.

"Tame! Why, you tenderfoot! He's as wild as wild. Can't you see that?"

Ken's excitement and Pepe's intense eagerness all at once seemed
communicated to Hal. He hauled up the gun, fingered the triggers
awkwardly, then shot both barrels. He tore a tremendous hole in the
brush some few feet to one side of the turkey. Then the great bird ran
swiftly out of sight.

"Didn't want to kill him sitting, anyhow," said Hal, handing the gun
back to Ken.

"We want to eat some wild turkey, don't we? Well, we'd better take any
chance. These birds are game, Hal, and don't you forget that!"

"What's all the shooting?" panted George, as he joined the march.

Just then there was a roar in the bushes, and a brown blur rose and
whizzed ahead like a huge bullet. That turkey had flushed. Ken watched
him fly till he went down out of sight into a distant swale.

"Pretty nifty flier, eh?" said George. "He was too quick for me."

"Great!" replied Ken.

There was another roar, and a huge bronze cannon-ball sped straight
ahead. Ken shot both barrels, then George shot one, all clean misses.
Ken watched this turkey fly, and saw him clearer. He had to admit that
the wild turkey of the Tamaulipas jungle had a swifter and more
beautiful flight than his favorite bird, the ruffled grouse.

"Walk faster," said George. "They'll flush better. I don't see how I'm
to hit one. This goose I'm carrying weighs about a ton."

The hunters hurried along, crashing through the bushes. They saw turkey
after turkey. BANG! went George's gun.

Then a beautiful sight made Ken cry out and forget to shoot. Six turkeys
darted across an open patch--how swiftly they ran!--then rose in a
bunch. The roar they made, the wonderfully rapid action of their
powerful wings, and then the size of them, their wildness and noble
gameness made them the royal game for Ken.

At the next threshing in the bushes his gun was leveled; he covered the
whistling bronze thing that shot up. The turkey went down with a crash.
Pepe yelled, and as he ran forward the air all about him was full of
fine bronze feathers. Ken hurried forward to see his bird. Its strength
and symmetry, and especially the beautiful shades of bronze, captivated
his eye.

"Come on, boys--this is the greatest game I ever hunted," he called.

Again Pepe yelled, and this time he pointed. From where Ken stood he
could not see anything except low, green bushes. In great excitement
George threw up his gun and shot. Ken heard a squealing.

"Javelin! Javelin!" yelled Pepe, in piercing alarm.

George jerked a rifle from him and began to shoot. Hal pumped his .22
into the bushes. The trampling of hard little hoofs and a cloud of dust
warned Ken where the javelin were. Suddenly Pepe broke and fled for the
river.

"Hyar, Pepe, fetch back my rifle," shouted Ken, angrily.

Pepe ran all the faster.

George turned and dashed away yelling: "Wild pigs! Wild pigs!"

"Look out, Ken! Run! Run!" added Hal; and he likewise took to his heels.

It looked as if there was nothing else for Ken to do but to make tracks
from that vicinity. Never before had he run from a danger which he had
not seen; but the flight of the boys was irresistibly contagious, and
this, coupled with the many stories he had heard of the javelin, made
Ken execute a sprint that would have been a record but for the hampering
weight of gun and turkey. He vowed he would hold on to both, pigs or no
pigs; nevertheless he listened as he ran and nervously looked back
often. It may have been excited imagination that the dust-cloud appeared
to be traveling in his wake. Fortunately, the distance to the river did
not exceed a short quarter of a mile. Hot, winded, and thoroughly
disgusted with himself, Ken halted on the bank. Pepe was already in the
boat, and George was scrambling aboard.

"A fine--chase--you've given--me," Ken panted. "There's nothing--after
us."

"Don't you fool yourself," returned George, quickly. "I saw those pigs,
and, like the ass I am, I blazed away at one with my shotgun."

"Did he run at you? That's what I want to know?" demanded Ken.

George said he was not certain about that, but declared there always was
danger if a wounded javelin squealed. Pepe had little to say; he refused
to go back after the deer left in the trail. So they rowed across the
shoal, and on the way passed within a rod of a big crocodile.

"Look at that fellow," cried George. "Wish I had my rifle loaded. He's
fifteen feet long."

"Oh no, George, he's not more than ten feet," said Ken.

"You don't see his tail. He's a whopper. Pepe told me there was one in
this pool. We'll get him, all right."

They reached camp tired out, and all a little ruffled in temper, which
certainly was not eased by the discovery that they were covered with
ticks. Following the cue of his companions, Ken hurriedly stripped off
his clothes and hung them where they could singe over the camp-fire.
There were broad red bands of pinilius round both ankles, and reddish
patches on the skin of his arms. Here and there were black spots about
the size of his little finger-nail, and these were garrapatoes. He
picked these off one by one, rather surprised to find them come off so
easily. Suddenly he jumped straight up with a pain as fierce as if it
had been a puncture from a red-hot wire.

Pepe grinned; and George cried:

"Aha! that was a garrapato bite, that was! You just wait!"

George had a hundred or more of the big black ticks upon him, and he was
remorselessly popping them with his cigarette. Some of them were biting
him, too, judging from the way he flinched. Pepe had attracted to
himself a million or more of the pinilius, but very few of the larger
pests. He generously came to Ken's assistance. Ken was trying to pull
off the garrapato that had bitten a hole in him. Pepe said it had
embedded its head, and if pulled would come apart, leaving the head
buried in the flesh, which would cause inflammation. Pepe held the
glowing end of his cigarette close over the tick, and it began to squirm
and pull out its head. When it was free of the flesh Pepe suddenly
touched it with the cigarette, and it exploded with a pop. A difficult
question was: Which hurt Ken the most, the burn from the cigarette or
the bite of the tick? Pepe scraped off as many pinilius as would come,
and then rubbed Ken with canya, the native alcohol. If this was not some
kind of vitriol, Ken missed his guess. It smarted so keenly he thought
his skin was peeling off. Presently, however, the smarting subsided, and
so did the ticks.

Hal, who by far was the most sensitive one in regard to the crawling and
biting of the jungle pests, had been remarkably fortunate in escaping
them. So he made good use of his opportunity to poke fun at the others,
particularly Ken.

George snapped out: "Just wait, Hollering Hal!"

"Don't you call me that!" said Hal, belligerently.

Ken eyed his brother in silence, but with a dark, meaning glance. It had
occurred to Ken that here in this jungle was the only place in the world
where he could hope to pay off old scores on Hal. And plots began to
form in his mind.

They lounged about camp, resting in the shade during the hot midday
hours. For supper they had a superfluity of meat, the waste of which Ken
deplored, and he assuaged his conscience by deciding to have a taste of
each kind. The wild turkey he found the most toothsome, delicious meat
it had ever been his pleasure to eat. What struck him at once was the
flavor, and he could not understand it until Pepe explained that the
jungle turkey lived upon a red pepper. So the Tamaulipas wild turkey
turned out to be doubly the finest game he had ever shot.

All afternoon the big crocodile sunned himself on the surface of the
shoal.

Ken wanted a crocodile-skin, and this was a chance to get one; but he
thought it as well to wait, and kept the boys from wasting ammunition.

Before sundown Pepe went across the river and fetched the deer carcass
down to the sandbar, where the jaguar-trail led to the water.

At twilight Ken stationed the boys at the lower end of the island,
ambushed behind stones. He placed George and Pepe some rods below his
own position. They had George's .32 rifle, and the 16-gage loaded with a
solid ball. Ken put Hal, with the double-barreled shotgun, also loaded
with ball, some little distance above. And Ken, armed with his
automatic, hid just opposite the deer-trails.

"Be careful where you shoot," Ken warned repeatedly. "Be cool--think
quick--and aim."

Ken settled down for a long wait, some fifty yards from the deer
carcass. A wonderful procession of wild fowl winged swift flight over
his head. They flew very low. It was strange to note the difference in
the sound of their flying. The cranes and herons softly swished the air,
the teal and canvas-backs whirred by, and the great Muscovies whizzed
like bullets.

When the first deer came down to drink it was almost dark, and when they
left the moon was up, though obscured by clouds. Faint sounds rose from
the other side of the island. Ken listened until his ears ached, but he
could hear nothing. Heavier clouds drifted over the moon. The deer
carcass became indistinct, and then faded entirely, and the bar itself
grew vague. He was about to give up watching for that night when he
heard a faint rustling below. Following it came a grating or crunching
of gravel.

Bright flares split the darkness--CRACK! CRACK! rang out George's rifle,
then the heavy BOOM! BOOM! of the shotgun.

"There he is!" yelled George. "He's down--we got him--there's two! Look
out!"

BOOM! BOOM! roared the heavy shotgun from Hal's covert.

"George missed him! I got him!" yelled Hal. "No, there he goes--Ken!
Ken!"

Ken caught the flash of a long gray body in the hazy gloom of the bar
and took a quick shot at it. The steel-jacketed bullet scattered the
gravel and then hummed over the bank. The gray body moved fast up the
bank. Ken could just see it. He turned loose the little automatic and
made the welkin ring.



XIV

A FIGHT WITH A JAGUAR


When the echoes of the shots died away the stillness seemed all the
deeper. No rustle in the brush or scuffle on the sand gave evidence of a
wounded or dying jaguar. George and Hal and Pepe declared there were two
tigers, and that they had hit one. Ken walked out upon the stones till
he could see the opposite bar, but was not rewarded by a sight of dead
game. Thereupon they returned to camp, somewhat discouraged at their ill
luck, but planning another night-watch.

In the morning George complained that he did not feel well. Ken told him
he had been eating too much fresh meat, and that he had better be
careful. Then Ken set off alone, crossed the river, and found that the
deer carcass was gone. In the sand near where it had lain were plenty of
cat-tracks, but none of the big jaguar. Upon closer scrutiny he found
the cat-tracks to be those of a panther. He had half dragged, half
carried the carcass up one of the steep trails, but from that point
there was no further trace.

Ken struck out across the flat, intending to go as far as the jungle.
Turtle-doves fluttered before him in numberless flocks. Far to one side
he saw Muscovy ducks rising, sailing a few rods, then alighting. This
occurred several times before he understood what it meant. There was
probably a large flock feeding on the flat, and the ones in the rear
were continually flying to get ahead of those to the fore.

Several turkeys ran through the bushes before Ken, but as he was
carrying a rifle he paid little heed to them. He kept a keen lookout for
javelin. Two or three times he was tempted to turn off the trail into
little bamboo hollows; this, however, owing to a repugnance to ticks, he
did not do. Finally, as he neared the high moss-decked wall of the
jungle, he came upon a runway leading through the bottom of a deep
swale, and here he found tiger-tracks.

Farther down the swale, under a great cluster of bamboo, he saw the
scattered bones of several deer. Ken was sure that in this spot the lord
of the jungle had feasted more than once. It was an open hollow, with
the ground bare under the bamboos. The runway led on into dense, leafy
jungle. Ken planned to bait that lair with a deer carcass and watch it
during the late afternoon.

First, it was necessary to get the deer. This might prove bothersome,
for Ken's hands and wrists were already sprinkled with pinilius, and he
certainly did not want to stay very long in the brush. Ken imagined he
felt an itching all the time, and writhed inside his clothes.

"Say, blame you! bite!" he exclaimed, resignedly, and stepped into the
low bushes. He went up and out of the swale. Scarcely had he reached a
level when he saw a troop of deer within easy range. Before they winded
danger Ken shot, and the one he had singled out took a few bounds, then
fell over sideways. The others ran off into the brush. Ken remembered
that the old hunter on Penetier had told him how seldom a deer dropped
at once. When he saw the work of the soft-nose .351 bullet, he no longer
wondered at this deer falling almost in his tracks.

"If I ever hit a jaguar like that it will be all day with him," was
Ken's comment.

There were two things about hunting the jaguar that Ken had been bidden
to keep in mind--fierce aggressiveness and remarkable tenacity of life.

Ken dragged the deer down into the bamboo swale and skinned out a
haunch. Next to wild-turkey meat, he liked venison best. He was glad to
have that as an excuse, for killing these tame tropical deer seemed like
murder to Ken. He left the carcass in a favorable place and then hurried
back to camp.

To Ken's relief, he managed to escape bringing any garrapatoes with him,
but it took a half-hour to rid himself of the collection of pinilius.

"George, ask Pepe what's the difference between a garrapato and a
pinilius," said Ken.

"The big tick is the little one's mother," replied Pepe.

"Gee! you fellows fuss a lot about ticks," said Hal, looking up from his
task. He was building more pens to accommodate the turtles, snakes,
snails, mice, and young birds that he had captured during the morning.

Pepe said there were few ticks there in the uplands compared to the
number down along the Panuco River. In the lowlands where the cattle
roamed there were millions in every square rod. The under side of every
leaf and blade of grass was red with ticks. The size of these pests
depended on whether or not they got a chance to stick to a steer or any
beast. They appeared to live indefinitely, but if they could not suck
blood they could not grow. The pinilius grew into a garrapato, and a
garrapato bred a hundred thousand pinilius in her body. Two singular
things concerning these ticks were that they always crawled upward, and
they vanished from the earth during the wet season.

Ken soaked his Duxbax hunting-suit in kerosene in the hope that this
method would enable him to spend a reasonable time hunting. Then, while
the other boys fished and played around, he waited for the long, hot
hours to pass. It was cool in the shade, but the sunlight resembled the
heat of fire. At last five o'clock came, and Ken put on the damp suit.
Soaked with the oil, it was heavier and hotter than sealskin, and before
he got across the river he was nearly roasted. The evening wind sprang
up, and the gusts were like blasts from a furnace. Ken's body was bathed
in perspiration; it ran down his wrists, over his hands, and wet the
gun. This cure for ticks--if it were one--was worse than their bites.
When he reached the shade of the bamboo swale it was none too soon for
him. He threw off the coat, noticing there were more ticks upon it than
at any time before. The bottom of his trousers, too, had gathered an
exceeding quantity. He brushed them off, muttering the while that he
believed they liked kerosene, and looked as if they were drinking it.
Ken found it easy, however, to brush them off the wet Duxbax, and soon
composed himself to rest and watch.

The position chosen afforded Ken a clear view of the bare space under
the bamboos and of the hollow where the runway disappeared in the
jungle. The deer carcass, which lay as he had left it, was about a
hundred feet from him. This seemed rather close, but he had to accept
it, for if he had moved farther away he could not have commanded both
points.

Ken sat with his back against a clump of bamboos, the little rifle
across his knees and an extra clip of cartridges on the ground at his
left. After taking that position he determined not to move a yard when
the tiger came, and to kill him.

Ken went over in mind the lessons he had learned hunting bear in
Penetier Forest with old Hiram Bent and lassoing lions on the wild
north-rim of the Grand Canyon. Ken knew that the thing for a hunter to
do, when his quarry was dangerous, was to make up his mind beforehand.
Ken had twelve powerful shells that he could shoot in the half of twelve
seconds. He would have been willing to face two jaguars.

The sun set and the wind died down. What a relief was the cooling shade!
The little breeze that was left fortunately blew at right angles to the
swale, so that there did not seem much danger of the tiger winding Ken
down the jungle runway.

For long moments he was tense and alert. He listened till he thought he
had almost lost the sense of hearing. The jungle leaves were whispering;
the insects were humming. He had expected to hear myriad birds and see
processions of deer, and perhaps a drove of javelin. But if any living
creatures ventured near him it was without his knowledge. The hour
between sunset and twilight passed--a long wait; still he did not lose
the feeling that something would happen. Ken's faculties of alertness
tired, however, and needed distraction. So he took stock of the big
clump of bamboos under which lay the deer carcass.

It was a remarkable growth, that gracefully drooping cluster of slender
bamboo poles. He remembered how, as a youngster, not many years back, he
had wondered where the fishing-poles came from. Here Ken counted one
hundred and sixty-nine in a clump no larger than a barrel. They were
yellow in color with black bands, and they rose straight for a few
yards, then began to lean out, to bend slightly, at last to droop with
their abundance of spiked leaves. Ken was getting down to a real,
interested study of this species of jungle growth when a noise startled
him.

He straightened out of his lounging position and looked around. The
sound puzzled him. He could not place its direction or name what it was.
The jungle seemed strangely quiet. He listened. After a moment of
waiting he again heard the sound. Instantly Ken was as tense and
vibrating as a violin string. The thing he had heard was from the lungs
of some jungle beast. He was almost ready to pronounce it a cough.
Warily he glanced around, craning his neck. Then a deep, hoarse growl
made him whirl.

There stood a jaguar with head up and paw on the deer carcass. Ken
imagined he felt perfectly cool, but he knew he was astounded. And even
as he cautiously edged the rifle over his knee he took in the beautiful
points of the jaguar. He was yellow, almost white, with black spots. He
was short and stocky, with powerful stumpy bow-legs. But his head most
amazed Ken. It was enormous. And the expression of his face was so
singularly savage and wild that Ken seemed to realize instantly the
difference between a mountain-lion and this fierce tropical brute.

The jaguar opened his jaws threateningly. He had an enormous stretch of
jaw. His long, yellow fangs gleamed. He growled again.

Not hurriedly, nor yet slowly, Ken fired.

He heard the bullet strike him as plainly as if he had hit him with a
board. He saw dust fly from his hide. Ken expected to see the jaguar
roll over. Instead of that he leaped straight up with a terrible roar.
Something within Ken shook. He felt cold and sick.

When the jaguar came down, sprawled on all fours, Ken pulled the
automatic again, and he saw the fur fly. Then the jaguar leaped forward
with a strange, hoarse cry. Ken shot again, and knocked the beast flat.
He tumbled and wrestled about, scattering the dust and brush. Three
times more Ken fired, too hastily, and inflicted only slight wounds.

In reloading Ken tried to be deliberate in snapping in the second clip
and pushing down the rod that threw the shell into the barrel. But his
hands shook. His fingers were all thumbs, and he fumbled at the breech
of the rifle.

In that interval, if the jaguar could have kept his sense of direction,
he would have reached Ken. But the beast zigzagged; he had lost his
equilibrium; he was hard hit.

Then he leaped magnificently. He landed within twenty-five feet of Ken,
and when he plunged down he rolled clear over. Ken shot him through and
through. Yet he got up, wheezing blood, uttering a hoarse bellow, and
made again at Ken.

Ken had been cold, sick. Now panic almost overpowered him. The rifle
wabbled. The bamboo glade blurred in his sight. A terrible dizziness and
numbness almost paralyzed him. He was weakening, sinking, when thought
of life at stake lent him a momentary grim and desperate spirit.

Once while the jaguar was in the air Ken pulled, twice while he was
down. Then the jaguar stood up pawing the air with great spread claws,
coughing, bleeding, roaring. He was horrible.

Ken shot him straight between the widespread paws.

With twisted body, staggering, and blowing bloody froth all over Ken,
the big tiger blindly lunged forward and crashed to earth.

Then began a furious wrestling. Ken imagined it was the death-throes of
the jaguar. Ken could not see him down among the leaves and vines;
nevertheless, he shot into the commotion. The struggles ceased. Then a
movement of the weeds showed Ken that the jaguar was creeping toward the
jungle.

Ken fell rather than sat down. He found he was wringing wet with cold
sweat. He was panting hard.

"Say, but--that--was--awful!" he gasped. "What--was--wrong--with me?"

He began to reload the clips. They were difficult to load for even a
calm person, and now, in the reaction, Ken was the farthest removed from
calm. The jaguar crept steadily away, as Ken could tell by the swaying
weeds and shaking vines.

"What--a hard-lived beast!" muttered Ken. "I--must have shot--him all to
pieces. Yet he's getting away from me."

At last Ken's trembling fingers pushed some shells in the two clips, and
once more he reloaded the rifle. Then he stood up, drew a deep, full
breath, and made a strong effort at composure.

"I've shot at bear--and deer--and lions out West," said Ken. "But this
was different. I'll never get over it."

How close that jaguar came to reaching Ken was proved by the blood
coughed into his face. He recalled that he had felt the wind of one
great sweeping paw.

Ken regained his courage and determination. He meant to have that
beautiful spotted skin for his den. So he hurried along the runway and
entered the jungle. Beyond the edge, where the bushes made a dense
thicket, it was dry forest, with little green low down. The hollow gave
place to a dry wash. He could not see the jaguar, but he could hear him
dragging himself through the brush, cracking sticks, shaking saplings.

Presently Ken ran across a bloody trail and followed it. Every little
while he would stop to listen. When the wounded jaguar was still, he
waited until he started to move again. It was hard going. The brush was
thick, and had to be broken and crawled under or through. As Ken had
left his coat behind, his shirt was soon torn to rags. He peered ahead
with sharp eyes, expecting every minute to come in sight of the poor,
crippled beast. He wanted to put him out of agony. So he kept on
doggedly for what must have been a long time.

The first premonition he had of carelessness was to note that the
shadows were gathering in the jungle. It would soon be night. He must
turn back while there was light enough to follow his back track out to
the open. The second came in shape of a hot pain in his arm, as keen as
if he had jagged it with a thorn. Holding it out, he discovered to his
dismay that it was spotted with garrapatoes.



XV

THE VICIOUS GARRAPATOES


At once Ken turned back, and if he thought again of the jaguar it was
that he could come after him the next day or send Pepe. Another vicious
bite, this time on his leg, confirmed his suspicions that many of the
ticks had been on him long enough to get their heads in. Then he was
bitten in several places.

Those bites were as hot as the touch of a live coal, yet they made Ken
break out in dripping cold sweat. It was imperative that he get back to
camp without losing a moment which could be saved. From a rapid walk he
fell into a trot. He got off his back trail and had to hunt for it.
Every time a tick bit he jumped as if stung. The worst of it was that he
knew he was collecting more garrapatoes with almost every step. When he
grasped a dead branch to push it out of the way he could feel the ticks
cling to his hand. Then he would whip his arm in the air, flinging some
of them off to patter on the dry ground. Impossible as it was to run
through that matted jungle, Ken almost accomplished it. When he got out
into the open he did run, not even stopping for his coat, and he crossed
the flat at top speed.

It was almost dark when Ken reached the river-bank and dashed down to
frighten a herd of drinking deer. He waded the narrowest part of the
shoal. Running up the island he burst into the bright circle of
camp-fire. Pepe dropped a stew-pan and began to jabber. George dove for
a gun.

"What's after you?" shouted Hal, in alarm.

Ken was so choked up and breathless that at first he could not speak.
His fierce aspect and actions, as he tore off his sleeveless and ragged
shirt and threw it into the fire, added to the boys' fright.

"Good Lord! are you bug-house, Ken?" shrieked Hal.

"BUG-HOUSE! YES!" roared Ken, swiftly undressing. "Look at me!"

In the bright glare he showed his arms black with garrapatoes and a
sprinkling of black dots over the rest of his body.

"Is that all?" demanded Hal, in real or simulated scorn. "Gee! but
you're a brave hunter. I thought not less than six tigers were after
you."

"I'd rather have six tigers after me," yelled Ken. "You little
freckle-faced redhead!"

It was seldom indeed that Ken called his brother that name. Hal was
proof against any epithets except that one relating to his freckles and
his hair. But just now Ken felt that he was being eaten alive. He was in
an agony, and he lost his temper. And therefore he laid himself open to
Hal's scathing humor.

"Never mind the kid," said Ken to Pepe and George. "Hurry now, and get
busy with these devils on me."

It was well for Ken that he had a native like Pepe with him. For Pepe
knew just what to do. First he dashed a bucket of cold water over Ken.
How welcome that was!

"Pepe says for you to point out the ticks that're biting the hardest,"
said George.

In spite of his pain Ken stared in mute surprise.

"Pepe wants you to point out the ticks that are digging in the deepest,"
explained George. "Get a move on, now."

"What!" roared Ken, glaring at Pepe and George. He thought even the
native might be having fun with him. And for Ken this was not a funny
time.

But Pepe was in dead earnest.

"Say, it's impossible to tell WHERE I'm being bitten most! It's all
over!" protested Ken.

Still he discovered that by absolute concentration on the pain he was
enduring he was able to locate the severest points. And that showed him
the soundness of Pepe's advice.

"Here--this one--here--there. . . . Oh! here," began Ken, indicating
certain ticks.

"Not so fast, now," interrupted the imperturbable George, as he and Pepe
set to work upon Ken.

Then the red-hot cigarette-tips scorched Ken's skin. Ken kept pointing
and accompanying his directions with wild gestures and exclamations.

"Here. . . . Oo-oo! Here. . . . Wow! Here. . . . Ouch!--that one stung!
Here. . . . AUGH! Say, can't you hurry? Here! . . . Oh! that one was in
a mile! Here. . . . HOLD ON! You're burning a hole in me! . . . George,
you're having fun out of this. Pepe gets two to your one."

"He's been popping ticks all his life," was George's reasonable protest.

"Hurry!" cried Ken, in desperation. "George, if you monkey round--fool
over this job--I'll--I'll punch you good."

All this trying time Hal Ward sat on a log and watched the proceedings
with great interest and humor. Sometimes he smiled, at others he
laughed, and yet again he burst out into uproarious mirth.

"George, he wouldn't punch anybody," said Hal. "I tell you he's all in.
He hasn't any nerve left. It's a chance of your life. You'll never get
another. He's been bossing you around. Pay him up. Make him holler. Why,
what's a few little ticks? Wouldn't phase me! But Ken Ward's such a
delicate, fine-skinned, sensitive, girly kind of a boy! He's too nice to
be bitten by bugs. Oh dear, yes, yes! . . . Ken, why don't you show
courage?"

Ken shook his fist at Hal.

"All right," said Ken, grimly. "Have all the fun you can. Because I'll
get even with you."

Hal relapsed into silence, and Ken began to believe he had intimidated
his brother. But he soon realized how foolish it was to suppose such a
thing. Hal had only been working his fertile brain.

"George, here's a little verse for the occasion," said Hal.


"There was a brave hunter named Ken, And he loved to get skins for his
den, Not afraid was he of tigers or pigs, Or snakes or cats or any such
things, But one day in the jungle he left his clothes, And came
hollering back with garrapatoes."


"Gre-at-t-t!" sputtered Ken. "Oh, brother mine, we're a long way from
home. I'll make you crawl."

Pepe smoked and wore out three cigarettes, and George two, before they
had popped all the biting ticks. Then Ken was still covered with them.
Pepe bathed him in canya, which was like a bath of fire, and soon
removed them all. Ken felt flayed alive, peeled of his skin, and
sprinkled with fiery sparks. When he lay down he was as weak as a sick
cat. Pepe said the canya would very soon take the sting away, but it was
some time before Ken was resting easily.

It would not have been fair to ask Ken just then whether the prize for
which he worked was worth his present gain. Garrapatoes may not seem
important to one who simply reads about them, but such pests are a
formidable feature of tropical life.

However, Ken presently felt that he was himself again.

Then he put his mind to the serious problem of his note-book and the
plotting of the island. As far as his trip was concerned, Cypress Island
was an important point. When he had completed his map down to the
island, he went on to his notes. He believed that what he had found out
from his knowledge of forestry was really worth something. He had seen a
gradual increase in the size and number of trees as he had proceeded
down the river, a difference in the density and color of the jungle, a
flattening-out of the mountain range, and a gradual change from rocky to
clayey soil. And on the whole his note-book began to assume such a
character that he was beginning to feel willing to submit it to his
uncle.



XVI

FIELD WORK OF A NATURALIST


That night Ken talked natural history to the boys and read extracts from
a small copy of Sclater he had brought with him.

They were all particularly interested in the cat tribe.

The fore feet of all cats have five toes, the hind feet only four. Their
claws are curved and sharp, and, except in case of one species of
leopard, can be retracted in their sheaths. The claws of the great cat
species are kept sharp by pulling them down through bark of trees. All
cats walk on their toes. And the stealthy walk is due to hairy pads or
cushions. The claws of a cat do not show in its track as do those of a
dog. The tongues of all cats are furnished with large papillae. They are
like files, and the use is to lick bones and clean their fur. Their long
whiskers are delicate organs of perception to aid them in finding their
way on their night quests. The eyes of all cats are large and full, and
can be altered by contraction or expansion of iris, according to the
amount of light they receive. The usual color is gray or tawny with dark
spots or stripes. The uniform tawny color of the lion and the panther is
perhaps an acquired color, probably from the habit of these animals of
living in desert countries. It is likely that in primitive times cats
were all spotted or striped.

Naturally the boys were most interested in the jaguar, which is the
largest of the cat tribe in the New World. The jaguar ranges from
northern Mexico to northern Patagonia. Its spots are larger than those
of the leopard. Their ground color is a rich tan or yellow, sometimes
almost gold. Large specimens have been known nearly seven feet from nose
to end of tail.

The jaguar is an expert climber and swimmer. Humboldt says that where
the South American forests are subject to floods the jaguar sometimes
takes to tree life, living on monkeys. All naturalists agree on the
ferocious nature of jaguars, and on the loudness and frequency of their
cries. There is no record of their attacking human beings without
provocation. Their favorite haunts are the banks of jungle rivers, and
they often prey upon fish and turtles.

The attack of a jaguar is terrible. It leaps on the back of its prey and
breaks its neck. In some places there are well-known scratching trees
where jaguars sharpen their claws. The bark is worn smooth in front from
contact with the breasts of the animals as they stand up, and there is a
deep groove on each side. When new scars appear on these trees it is
known that jaguars are in the vicinity. The cry of the jaguar is loud,
deep, hoarse, something like PU, PU, PU. There is much enmity between
the panther, or mountain-lion, and the jaguar, and it is very strange
that generally the jaguar fears the lion, although he is larger and more
powerful.

Pepe had interesting things to say about jaguars, or tigres, as he
called them. But Ken, of course, could not tell how much Pepe said was
truth and how much just native talk. At any rate, Pepe told of one
Mexican who had a blind and deaf jaguar that he had tamed. Ken knew that
naturalists claimed the jaguar could not be tamed, but in this instance
Ken was inclined to believe Pepe. This blind jaguar was enormous in
size, terrible of aspect, and had been trained to trail anything his
master set him to. And Tigre, as he was called, never slept or stopped
till he had killed the thing he was trailing. As he was blind and deaf,
his power of scent had been abnormally developed.

Pepe told of a fight between a huge crocodile and a jaguar in which both
were killed. He said jaguars stalked natives and had absolutely no fear.
He knew natives who said that jaguars had made off with children and
eaten them. Lastly, Pepe told of an incident that had happened in
Tampico the year before. There was a ship at dock below Tampico, just on
the outskirts where the jungle began, and one day at noon two big
jaguars leaped on the deck. They frightened the crew out of their wits.
George verified this story, and added that the jaguars had been chased
by dogs, had boarded the ship, where they climbed into the rigging, and
stayed there till they were shot.

"Well," said Ken, thoughtfully, "from my experience I believe a jaguar
would do anything."

The following day promised to be a busy one for Hal, without any time
for tricks. George went hunting before breakfast--in fact, before the
others were up--and just as the boys were sitting down to eat he
appeared on the nearer bank and yelled for Pepe. It developed that for
once George had bagged game.

He had a black squirrel, a small striped wildcat, a peccary, a
three-foot crocodile, and a duck of rare plumage.

After breakfast Hal straightway got busy, and his skill and knowledge
earned praise from George and Pepe. They volunteered to help, which
offer Hal gratefully accepted. He had brought along a folding canvas
tank, forceps, knives, scissors, several packages of preservatives, and
tin boxes in which to pack small skins.

His first task was to mix a salt solution in the canvas tank. This was
for immersing skins. Then he made a paste of salt and alum, and after
that a mixture of two-thirds glycerin and one-third water and carbolic
acid, which was for preserving small skins and to keep them soft.

And as he worked he gave George directions on how to proceed with the
wildcat and squirrel skins.

"Skin carefully and tack up the pelts fur side down. Scrape off all the
fat and oil, but don't scrape through. To-morrow when the skins are dry
soak them in cold water till soft. Then take them out and squeeze dry.
I'll make a solution of three quarts water, one-half pint salt, and one
ounce oil of vitriol. Put the skins in that for half an hour. Squeeze
dry again, and hang in shade. That'll tan the skin, and the moths will
never hurt them."

When Hal came to take up the duck he was sorry that some of the
beautiful plumage had been stained.

"I want only a few water-fowl," he said. "And particularly one of the
big Muscovies. And you must keep the feathers from getting soiled."

It was interesting to watch Hal handle that specimen. First he took full
measurements. Then, separating the feathers along the breast, he made an
incision with a sharp knife, beginning high up on breast-bone and ending
at tail. He exercised care so as not to cut through the abdomen. Raising
the skin carefully along the cut as far as the muscles of the leg, he
pushed out the knee joint and cut it off. Then he loosened the skin from
the legs and the back, and bent the tail down to cut through the tail
joint. Next he removed the skin from the body and cut off the wings at
the shoulder joint. Then he proceeded down the neck, being careful not
to pull or stretch the skin. Extreme care was necessary in cutting round
the eyes. Then, when he had loosened the skin from the skull, he severed
the head and cleaned out the skull. He coated all with the paste, filled
the skull with cotton, and then immersed them in the glycerin bath.

The skinning of the crocodile was an easy matter compared with that of
the duck. Hal made an incision at the throat, cut along the middle of
the abdomen all the way to the tip of the tail, and then cut the skin
away all around the carcass. Then he set George and Pepe to scraping the
skin, after which he immersed it in the tank.

About that time Ken, who was lazily fishing in the shade of the
cypresses, caught one of the blue-tailed fish. Hal was delighted. He had
made a failure of the other specimen of this unknown fish. This one was
larger and exquisitely marked, being dark gold on the back, white along
the belly, and its tail had a faint bluish tinge. Hal promptly killed
the fish, and then made a dive for his suitcase. He produced several
sheets of stiff cardboard and a small box of water-colors and brushes.
He laid the fish down on a piece of paper and outlined its exact size.
Then, placing it carefully in an upright position on a box, he began to
paint it in the actual colors of the moment. Ken laughed and teased him.
George also was inclined to be amused. But Pepe was amazed and
delighted. Hal worked on unmindful of his audience, and, though he did
not paint a very artistic picture, he produced the vivid colors of the
fish before they faded.

His next move was to cover the fish with strips of thin cloth, which
adhered to the scales and kept them from being damaged. Then he cut
along the middle line of the belly, divided the pelvic arch where the
ventral fins joined, cut through the spines, and severed the fins from
the bones. Then he skinned down to the tail, up to the back, and cut
through caudal processes. The vertebral column he severed at the base of
the skull. He cleaned and scraped the entire inside of the skin, and
then put it to soak.

"Hal, you're much more likely to make good with Uncle Jim than I am,"
said Ken. "You've really got skill, and you know what to do. Now, my job
is different. So far I've done fairly well with my map of the river. But
as soon as we get on level ground I'll be stumped."

"We'll cover a hundred miles before we get to low land," replied Hal,
cheerily. "That's enough, even if we do get lost for the rest of the
way. You'll win that trip abroad, Ken, never fear, and little Willie is
going to be with you."



XVII

A MIXED-UP TIGER-HUNT


Next morning Hal arose bright as a lark, but silent, mysterious, and
with 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 the
earth who could play a trick on Hal Ward and escape vengeance.

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

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

"Garrapato George, come out of it. Cheer up," said Ken. "Why don't you
take Pinilius Pepe as gun-bearer and go out to shoot something? You
haven'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 some
game."

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

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

Ken watched George awhile that morning. The lad performed a lot of weird
things around camp. Then he bounced bullets off the water in vain effort
to locate the basking crocodile. Then he tried his hand at fishing once
more. He could get more bites than any fisherman Ken ever saw, but he
could not catch anything.

By and by the heat made Ken drowsy, and, stretching himself in the
shade, 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 the
shady bank of the river," suggested Ken. "Go sneaking along and you'll
have some sport."

George was delighted with that idea. He had often cast longing eyes at
the hammerless gun. Pepe, too, looked exceedingly pleased. They got in
the boat and were in the act of starting when George jumped ashore. He
reached for his .32 and threw the lever down to see if there was a shell
in 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 see
in 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. He
promptly fell asleep. How long he slept he had no idea, and when he
awoke he lay with languor, not knowing at the moment what had awakened
him. Presently he heard a shout, then a rifle-shot. Sitting up, he saw
the boat some two hundred yards above, drifting along about the edge of
the shade. Pepe was in it alone. He appeared to be excited, for Ken
observed him lay down an oar and pick up a gun, and then reverse the
performance. Also he was jabbering to George, who evidently was out on
the 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 heard
the singing of a bullet. Suddenly, SPOU! it twanged on a branch not
twenty feet over his head, and then went whining away. He heard it tick
a few leaves or twigs. There was not any languor in the alacrity with
which Ken put the big cypress-tree between him and up-stream. Then he
ventured to peep forth.

"Look out where you're slinging lead!" he yelled. He doubted not that
George had treed a black squirrel or was pegging away at parrots. Yet
Pepe's motions appeared to carry a good deal of feeling, too much, he
thought 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 some
fifty yards above the island. Then he caught sight of him again. He was
poling with an oar, evidently trying to go up or down--Ken could not
tell which.

SPANG! SPANG! George's .32 spoke twice more, and the bullets both struck
in the middle of the stream and ricochetted into the far bank with
little thuds.

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

Then, peeping out from behind the cypress, Ken watched the boat drift
down-stream. Pepe had stopped poling and was looking closely into the
thick grass and vines of the bank. Ken heard his voice, but could not
tell what he said. He watched keenly for some sight of George. The
moments passed, the boat drifted, and Ken began to think there was
nothing unusual afoot. In this interval Pepe drifted within seventy-five
yards of camp. Again Ken called to ask him what George was stalking, 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 him
between the river and the flat. He's in this strip of shore brush.
There!"

SPANG! SPANG! SPANG! Bullets hummed and whistled all about the island.
Ken was afraid to peep out with even one eye. He began to fancy that
George was playing Indian.

"Fine, Georgie! You're doing great!" he shouted. "You couldn't come any
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 bank
changed the aspect of the situation.

"Panther! or jaguar!" Ken ejaculated, in amaze. In a second he was
tight-muscled, cold, and clear-witted. At that instant he saw George's
white 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 to
Ken. Ken jumped from behind the tree, and, running to the head of the
island, 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 long
yellow shape. With the quickness of thought and the aim of the
wing-shot, Ken fired. From the brush rose a strange wild scream. George
aimed at a shaking mass of grass and vines, but, before he could fire, a
long, lean, ugly beast leaped straight out from the bank to drop into
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 the boat.
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 for him,
for his eyes were riveted on Pepe. The native did not know how to hold a
gun properly, let alone aim it. He had, however, sense enough to try. He
got the stock under his chin, and, pointing the gun, he evidently tried
to fire. But the hammerless did not go off. Then Pepe fumbled at the
safety-catch, which he evidently remembered seeing Ken use.

The jaguar, swimming with difficulty, perhaps badly wounded, made right
for 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 Ken
dared 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 the
crazy .32. Of course at the critical moment something had gone wrong
with the old rifle.

Pepe's head bobbed up just on the other side of the boat. The jaguar was
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 the river
drew Ken's attention. He saw the big crocodile, and the great creature
did not seem at all lazy at that moment.

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

He bawled his familiar appeal to the saints. Then he grasped the gunwale
of the boat just as it swung against the branches of the low-leaning
tree. 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 the
boat."

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

Ken had only a fleeting instant to get a bead on that yellow body, and
before he could be sure of an aim the branch weighted with Pepe sank
down to hide both boat and jaguar. The chill of fear for Pepe changed to
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'll sink
it."

SPANG! SPANG! SPANG! SPANG!

That was as much as George cared about such a possibility. He stood on
the bank and worked the lever of his .32 with wild haste. Ken plainly
heard the spat of the bullets, and the sound was that of lead in contact
with 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 he
straddled it and hunched himself nearer shore the foliage rose out of
the water, exposing the boat. George kept on shooting till his magazine
was empty. Ken's position was too low for him to see the jaguar.

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

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

"He's mine! He's mine! He's mine! Don't you dare shoot!" howled George.
"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 fired
again. The boat drifted into overhanging vines. Once more Ken saw a
yellow 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 or
shout from George. Pepe dropped from his branch to the bank and caught
the boat. Ken called, and while Pepe rowed over to the island, he got
into some clothes fit to hunt in. Then they hurried back across the
channel to the bank.

Ken found the trail of the jaguar, followed it up to the edge of the
brush, and lost it in the weedy flat. George came out of a patch of
bamboos. 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. There
were ten bullet-holes in it.

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

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

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

"Kid, it's been pretty hot round here for a little. George and Pepe
rounded 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 and
went ashore to get him. But I couldn't find him, and in kicking round in
the brush I came into a kind of trail or runway. Then I ran plumb into
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 I saw him
run I got back my courage. I called for Pepe to row down-stream and keep
a lookout. Then I got into the flat. I must have come down a good ways
before I saw him. I shot, and he dodged back into the brush again. I
fired into the moving bushes where he was. And pretty soon I ventured to
get in on the bank, where I had a better chance. I guess it was about
that time that I heard you yell. Then it all happened. You hit him!
Didn't you hear him scream? What a jump he made! If it hadn't been so
terrible when your hammerless kicked Pepe overboard, I would have died
laughing. Then I was paralyzed when the jaguar swam for the boat. He was
hurt, for the water was bloody. Things came off quick, I tell you. Like
a monkey Pepe scrambled into the tree. When I got my gun loaded the
jaguar was crouched down in the bottom of the boat watching Pepe. 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. "The
first 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 a little.
. . . Say, was he a big one? My eyes were so hazy I didn't see him
clear."

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

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

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



XVIII

WATCHING A RUNWAY


"I'll tell you what, fellows," said Hal. "I know where we CAN get a
tiger."

"We'll get one in the neck if we don't watch out," replied George.

Ken thought that Hal looked very frank and earnest, and honest and
eager, but there was never any telling about him.

"Where?" he asked, skeptically.

"Down along the river. You know I've been setting traps all along.
There's a flat sand-bar for a good piece down. I came to a little gully
full of big tracks, big as my two hands. And fresh!"

"Honest Injun, kid?" queried Ken.

"Hope to die if I'm lyin'," replied Hal. "I want to see somebody kill a
tiger. Now let's go down there in the boat and wait for one to come to
drink. There's a big log with driftwood lodged on it. We can hide behind
that."

"Great idea, Hal," said Ken. "We'd be pretty safe in the boat. I want to
say that tigers have sort of got on my nerves. I ought to go over in the
jungle to look for the one I crippled. He's dead by now. But the longer
I put it off the harder it is to go. I'll back out yet. . . . Come,
we'll have an early dinner. Then to watch for Hal's tiger."

The sun had just set, and the hot breeze began to swirl up the river
when Ken slid the boat into the water. He was pleased to find that it
did not leak.

"We'll take only two guns," said Ken, "my .351 and the hammerless, with
some ball-cartridges. We want to be quiet to-night, and if you fellows
take your guns you'll be pegging at ducks and things. That won't do."

Pepe sat at the oars with instructions to row easily. George and Hal
occupied the stern-seats, and Ken took his place in the bow, with both
guns at hand.

The hot wind roared in the cypresses, and the river whipped up little
waves with white crests. Long streamers of gray moss waved out over the
water and branches tossed and swayed. The blow did not last for many
minutes. Trees and river once more grew quiet. And suddenly the heat was
gone.

As Pepe rowed on down the river, Cypress Island began to disappear round
a bend, and presently was out of sight. Ducks were already in flight.
They flew low over the boat, so low that Ken could almost have reached
them with the barrel of his gun. The river here widened. It was full of
huge snags. A high, wooded bluff shadowed the western shore. On the
left, towering cypresses, all laced together in dense vine and moss
webs, leaned out.

Under Hal's direction Pepe rowed to a pile of driftwood, and here the
boat was moored. The gully mentioned by Hal was some sixty yards
distant. It opened like the mouth of a cave. Beyond the cypresses thick,
intertwining bamboos covered it.

"I wish we'd gone in to see the tracks," said Ken. "But I'll take your
word, Hal."

"Oh, they're there, all right."

"I don't doubt it. Looks great to me! That's a runway, Hal. . . . Now,
boys, get a comfortable seat, and settle down to wait. Don't talk. Just
listen and watch. Remember, soon we'll be out of the jungle, back home.
So make hay while the sun shines. Watch and listen! Whoever sees or
hears anything first is the best man."

For once the boys were as obedient as lambs. But then, Ken thought, the
surroundings were so beautiful and wild and silent that any boys would
have been watchful.

There was absolutely no sound but the intermittent whir of wings. The
water-fowl flew by in companies--ducks, cranes, herons, snipe, and the
great Muscovies. Ken never would have tired of that procession. It
passed all too soon, and then only an occasional water-fowl swept
swiftly by, as if belated.

Slowly the wide river-lane shaded. But it was still daylight, and the
bank and the runway were clearly distinguishable. There was a
moment--Ken could not tell just how he knew--when the jungle awakened.
It was not only the faint hum of insects; it was a sense as if life
stirred with the coming of twilight.

Pepe was the first to earn honors at the listening game. He held up a
warning forefinger. Then he pointed under the bluff. Ken saw a doe
stepping out of a fringe of willows.

"Don't move--don't make a noise," whispered Ken.

The doe shot up long ears and watched the boat. Then a little fawn
trotted out and splashed in the water. Both deer drank, then seemed in
no hurry to leave the river.

Next moment Hal heard something downstream and George saw something
up-stream. Pepe again whispered. As for Ken, he saw little dark shapes
moving out of the shadow of the runway. He heard a faint trampling of
hard little hoofs. But if these animals were javelin--of which he was
sure--they did not come out into the open runway. Ken tried to catch
Pepe's attention without making a noise; however, Pepe was absorbed in
his side of the river. Ken then forgot he had companions. All along the
shores were faint splashings and rustlings and crackings.

A loud, trampling roar rose in the runway and seemed to move backward
toward the jungle, diminishing in violence.

"Pigs running--something scared 'em," said George.

"S-s-s-sh!" whispered Ken.

All the sounds ceased. The jungle seemed to sleep in deep silence.

Ken's eyes were glued to the light patch of sand-bank where it merged in
the dark of the runway. Then Ken heard a sound--what, he could not have
told. But it made his heart beat fast.

There came a few pattering thuds, soft as velvet; and a shadow, paler
than the dark background, moved out of the runway.

With that a huge jaguar loped into the open. He did not look around. He
took a long, easy bound down to the water and began to lap.

Either Pepe or George jerked so violently as to make the boat lurch.
They seemed to be stifling.

"Oh, Ken, don't miss!" whispered Hal.

Ken had the automatic over the log and in line. His teeth were shut
tight, and he was cold and steady. He meant not to hurry.

The jaguar was a heavy, squat, muscular figure, not graceful and
beautiful like the one Ken had crippled. Suddenly he raised his head and
looked about. He had caught a scent.

It was then that Ken lowered the rifle till the sight covered the
beast--lower yet to his huge paws, then still lower to the edge of the
water. Ken meant to shoot low enough this time. Holding the rifle there,
and holding it with all his strength, he pressed the trigger
once--twice. The two shots rang out almost simultaneously. Ken expected
to see this jaguar leap, but the beast crumpled up and sank in his
tracks.

Then the boys yelled, and Ken echoed them. Pepe was wildly excited, and
began to fumble with the oars.

"Wait! Wait, I tell you!" ordered Ken.

"Oh, Ken, you pegged him!" cried Hal. "He doesn't move. Let's go ashore.
What did I tell you? It took me to find the tiger."

Ken watched with sharp eyes and held his rifle ready, but the huddled
form on the sand never so much as twitched.

"I guess I plugged him," said Ken, with unconscious pride.

Pepe rowed the boat ashore, and when near the sand-bar he reached out
with an oar to touch the jaguar. There was no doubt about his being
dead. The boys leaped ashore and straightened out the beast. He was
huge, dirty, spotted, bloody, and fiercely savage even in death. Ken's
bullets had torn through the chest, making fearful wounds. Pepe
jabbered, and the boys all talked at once. When it came to lifting the
jaguar into the boat they had no slight task. The short, thick-set body
was very heavy. But at last they loaded it in the bow, and Pepe rowed
back to the island. It was still a harder task to get the jaguar up the
high bank. Pepe kindled a fire so they would have plenty of light, and
then they set to work at the skinning.

What with enthusiasm over the stalk, and talk of the success of the
trip, and compliments to Ken's shooting, and care of the skinning, the
boys were three hours at the job. Ken, remembering Hiram Bent's
teachings, skinned out the great claws himself. They salted the pelt and
nailed it up on the big cypress.

"You'd never have got one but for me," said Hal. "That's how I pay you
for the tricks you've played me!"

"By George, Hal, it's a noble revenge!" cried Ken, who, in the warmth
and glow of happiness of the time, quite believed his brother.

Pepe went to bed first. George turned in next. Ken took a last look at
the great pelt stretched on the cypress, and then he sought his
blankets. Hal, however, remained up. Ken heard him pounding stakes in
the ground.

"Hal, what're you doing?"

"I'm settin' my trot-lines," replied Hal, cheerfully.

"Well, come to bed."

"Keep your shirt on, Ken, old boy. I'll be along presently."

Ken fell asleep. He did not have peaceful slumbers. He had been too
excited to rest well. He would wake up out of a nightmare, then go to
sleep again. He seemed to wake suddenly out of one of these black
spells, and he was conscious of pain. Something tugged at his leg.

"What the dickens!" he said, and raised on his elbow. Hal was asleep
between George and Pepe, who were snoring.

Just then Ken felt a violent jerk. The blankets flew up at his feet, and
his left leg went out across his brother's body. There was a string--a
rope--something fast round his ankle, and it was pulling hard. It hurt.

"Jiminy!" shouted Ken, reaching for his foot. But before he could reach
it another tug, more violent, pulled his leg straight out. Ken began to
slide.

"What on earth?" yelled Ken. "Say! Something's got me!"

The yells and Ken's rude exertions aroused the boys. And they were
frightened. Ken got an arm around Hal and the other around George and
held on for dear life. He was more frightened than they. Pepe leaped up,
jabbering, and, tripping, he fell all in a heap.

"Oh! my leg!" howled Ken. "It's being pulled off. Say, I can't be
dreaming!"

Most assuredly Ken was wide awake. The moonlight showed his bare leg
sticking out and round his ankle a heavy trot-line. It was stretched
tight. It ran down over the bank. And out there in the river a
tremendous fish or a crocodile was surging about, making the water roar.

Pepe was trying to loosen the line or break it. George, who was always
stupid when first aroused, probably imagined he was being mauled by a
jaguar, for he loudly bellowed. Ken had a strangle-hold on Hal.

"Oh! OH! OH-H-H!" bawled Ken. Not only was he scared out of a year's
growth; he was in terrible pain. Then his cries grew unintelligible. He
was being dragged out of the tent. Still he clung desperately to the
howling George and the fighting Hal.

All at once something snapped. The tension relaxed. Ken fell back upon
Hal.

"Git off me, will you?" shouted Hal. "Are you c-c-cr-azy?"

But Hal's voice had not the usual note when he was angry or impatient.
He was laughing so he could not speak naturally.

"Uh-huh!" said Ken, and sat up. "I guess here was where I got it. Is my
leg broken? What came off?"

Pepe was staggering about on the bank, going through strange motions. He
had the line in his hands, and at the other end was a monster of some
kind threshing about in the water. It was moonlight and Ken could see
plainly. Around the ankle that felt broken was a twisted loop of
trot-line. Hal had baited a hook and slipped the end of the trot-line
over Ken's foot. During the night the crocodile or an enormous fish had
taken the bait. Then Ken had nearly been hauled off the island.

Pepe was doing battle with the hooked thing, whatever it was, and Ken
was about to go to his assistance when again the line broke.

"Great! Hal, you have a nice disposition," exclaimed Ken. "You have a
wonderful affection for your brother. You care a lot about his legs or
his life. Idiot! Can't you play a safe trick? If I hadn't grabbed you
and George, I'd been pulled into the river. Eaten up, maybe! And my
ankle is sprained. It won't be any good for a week. You are a bright
boy!"

And in spite of his laughter Hal began to look ashamed.



XIX

ADVENTURES WITH CROCODILES


The rest of that night Ken had more dreams; and they were not pleasant.
He awoke from one in a cold fright.

It must have been late, for the moon was low. His ankle pained and
throbbed, and to that he attributed his nightmare. He was falling asleep
again when the clink of tin pans made him sit up with a start. Some
animal was prowling about camp. He peered into the moonlit shadows, but
could make out no unfamiliar object. Still he was not satisfied; so he
awoke Pepe.

Certainly it was not Ken's intention to let Pepe get out ahead;
nevertheless he was lame and slow, and before he started Pepe rolled out
of the tent.

"Santa Maria!" shrieked Pepe.

Ken fumbled under his pillow for a gun. Hal raised up so quickly that he
bumped Ken's head, making him see a million stars. George rolled over,
nearly knocking down the tent.

From outside came a sliddery, rustling noise, then another yell that was
deadened by a sounding splash. Ken leaped out with his gun, George at
his elbow. Pepe stood just back of the tent, his arms upraised, and he
appeared stunned. The water near the bank was boiling and bubbling;
waves were dashing on the shore and ripples spreading in a circle.

George shouted in Spanish.

"Crocodile!" cried Ken.

"Si, si, Señor," replied Pepe. Then he said that when he stepped out of
the tent the crocodile was right in camp, not ten feet from where the
boys lay. Pepe also said that these brutes were man-eaters, and that he
had better watch for the rest of the night. Ken thought him, like all
the natives, inclined to exaggerate; however, he made no objection to
Pepe's holding watch over the crocodile.

"What'd I tell you?" growled George. "Why didn't you let me shoot him?
Let's go back to bed."

In the morning when Ken got up he viewed his body with great curiosity.
The ticks and the cigarette burns had left him a beautifully tattooed
specimen of aborigine. His body, especially his arms, bore hundreds of
little reddish scars--bites and burns together. There was not, however,
any itching or irritation, for which he made sure he had to thank Pepe's
skill and the canya.

George did not get up when Ken called him. Thinking his sleep might have
been broken, Ken let him alone a while longer, but when breakfast was
smoking he gave him a prod. George rolled over, looking haggard and
glum.

"I'm sick," he said.

Ken's cheerfulness left him, for he knew what sickness or injury did to
a camping trip. George complained of aching bones, headache and cramps,
and showed a tongue with a yellow coating. Ken said he had eaten too
much fresh meat, but Pepe, after looking George over, called it a name
that sounded like calentura.

"What's that?" Ken inquired.

"Tropic fever," replied George. "I've had it before."

For a while he was a very sick boy. Ken had a little medicine-case, and
from it he administered what he thought was best, and George grew easier
presently. Then Ken sat down to deliberate on the situation.

Whatever way he viewed it, he always came back to the same thing--they
must get out of the jungle; and as they could not go back, they must go
on down the river. That was a bad enough proposition without being
hampered by a sick boy. It was then Ken had a subtle change of feeling;
a shade of gloom seemed to pervade his spirit.

By nine o'clock they were packed, and, turning into the shady channel,
soon were out in the sunlight saying good-by to Cypress Island. At the
moment Ken did not feel sorry to go, yet he knew that feeling would come
by and by, and that Cypress Island would take its place in his memory as
one more haunting, calling wild place.

They turned a curve to run under a rocky bluff from which came a muffled
roar of rapids. A long, projecting point of rock extended across the
river, allowing the water to rush through only at a narrow mill-race
channel close to the shore. It was an obstacle to get around. There was
no possibility of lifting the boat over the bridge of rock, and the
alternative was shooting the channel. Ken got out upon the rocks, only
to find that drifting the boat round the sharp point was out of the
question, owing to a dangerously swift current. Ken tried the depth of
the water--about four feet. Then he dragged the boat back a little
distance and stepped into the river.

"Look! Look!" cried Pepe, pointing to the bank.

About ten yards away was a bare shelf of mud glistening with water and
showing the deep tracks of a crocodile. It was a slide, and manifestly
had just been vacated. The crocodile-tracks resembled the imprints of a
giant's hand.

"Come out!" yelled George, and Pepe jabbered to his saints.

"We've got to go down this river," Ken replied, and he kept on wading
till he got the boat in the current. He was frightened, of course, but
he kept on despite that. The boat lurched into the channel, stern first,
and he leaped up on the bow. It shot down with the speed of a toboggan,
and the boat whirled before he could scramble to the oars. What was
worse, an overhanging tree with dead snags left scarce room to pass
beneath. Ken ducked to prevent being swept overboard, and one of the
snags that brushed and scraped him ran under his belt and lifted him
into the air. He grasped at the first thing he could lay hands on, which
happened to be a box, but he could not hold to it because the boat
threatened to go on, leaving him kicking in midair and holding up a box
of potatoes. Ken clutched a gunwale, only to see the water swell
dangerously over the edge. In angry helplessness he loosened his hold.
Then the snag broke, just in the nick of time, for in a second more the
boat would have been swept away. Ken fell across the bow, held on, and
soon drifted from under the threshing branches, and seized the oars.

Pepe and George and Hal walked round the ledge and, even when they
reached Ken, had not stopped laughing.

"Boys, it wasn't funny," declared Ken, soberly.

"I said it was coming to us," replied George.

There were rapids below, and Ken went at them with stern eyes and set
lips. It was the look of men who face obstacles in getting out of the
wilderness. More than one high wave circled spitefully round Pepe's
broad shoulders.

They came to a fall where the river dropped a few feet straight down.
Ken sent the boys below. Hal and George made a detour. But Pepe jumped
off the ledge into shallow water.

"AH-H!" yelled Pepe.

Ken was becoming accustomed to Pepe's wild yell, but there was a note in
this which sent a shiver over him. Before looking, Ken snatched his
rifle from the boat.

Pepe appeared to be sailing out into the pool. But his feet were not
moving.

Ken had only an instant, but in that he saw under Pepe a long, yellow,
swimming shape, leaving a wake in the water. Pepe had jumped upon the
back of a crocodile. He seemed paralyzed, or else he was wisely trusting
himself there rather than in the water. Ken was too shocked to offer
advice. Indeed, he would not have known how to meet this situation.

Suddenly Pepe leaped for a dry stone, and the energy of his leap carried
him into the river beyond. Like a flash he was out again, spouting
water.

Ken turned loose the automatic on the crocodile and shot a magazine of
shells. The crocodile made a tremendous surge, churning up a slimy foam,
then vanished in a pool.

"Guess this'll be crocodile day," said Ken, changing the clip in his
rifle. "I'll bet I made a hole in that one. Boys, look out below."

Ken shoved the boat over the ledge in line with Pepe, and it floated to
him, while Ken picked his way round the rocky shore. The boys piled
aboard again. The day began to get hot. Ken cautioned the boys to avoid
wading, if possible, and to be extremely careful where they stepped.
Pepe pointed now and then to huge bubbles breaking on the surface of the
water and said they were made by crocodiles.

From then on Ken's hands were full. He struck swift water, where rapid
after rapid, fall on fall, took the boat downhill at a rate to afford
him satisfaction. The current had a five or six mile speed, and, as Ken
had no portages to make and the corrugated rapids of big waves gave him
speed, he made by far the best time of the voyage.

The hot hours passed--cool for the boys because they were always wet.
The sun sank behind a hill. The wind ceased to whip the streamers of
moss. At last, in a gathering twilight, Ken halted at a wide, flat rock
to make camp.

"Forty miles to-day if we made an inch!" exclaimed Ken.

The boys said more.

They built a fire, cooked supper, and then, weary and silent, Hal and
George and Pepe rolled into their blankets. But Ken doggedly worked an
hour at his map and notes. That hard forty miles meant a long way toward
the success of his trip.

Next morning the mists had not lifted from the river when they shoved
off, determined to beat the record of yesterday. Difficulties beset them
from the start--the highest waterfall of the trip, a leak in the boat,
deep, short rapids, narrows with choppy waves, and a whirlpool where
they turned round and round, unable to row out. Nor did they get free
till Pepe lassoed a snag and pulled them out.

About noon they came to another narrow chute brawling down into a deep,
foamy pool. Again Ken sent the boys around, and he backed the boat into
the chute; and just as the current caught it he leaped aboard. He was
either tired or careless, for he drifted too close to a half-submerged
rock, and, try as he might, at the last moment he could not avoid a
collision.

As the stern went hard on the rock Ken expected to break something, but
was surprised at the soft thud with which he struck. It flashed into his
mind that the rock was moss-covered.

Quick as the thought there came a rumble under the boat, the stern
heaved up, there was a great sheet-like splash, and then a blow that
splintered the gunwale. Then the boat shunted off, affording the
astounded Ken a good view of a very angry crocodile. He had been
sleeping on the rock.

The boys were yelling and crowding down to the shore where Ken was
drifting in. Pepe waded in to catch the boat.

"What was it hit you, Ken?" asked Hal.

"Mucho malo," cried Pepe.

"The boat's half full of water--the gunwale's all split!" ejaculated
George.

"Only an accident of river travel," replied Ken, with mock nonchalance.
"Say, Garrapato, WHEN, about WHEN is it coming to me?"

"Well, if he didn't get slammed by a crocodile!" continued George.

They unloaded, turned out the water, broke up a box to use for repairs,
and mended the damaged gunwale--work that lost more than a good hour.
Once again under way, Ken made some interesting observations. The river
ceased to stand on end in places; crocodiles slipped off every muddy
promontory, and wide trails ridged the steep clay-banks.

"Cattle-trails, Pepe says," said George. "Wild cattle roam all through
the jungle along the Panuco."

It was a well-known fact that the rancheros of Tamaulipas State had no
idea how many cattle they owned. Ken was so eager to see if Pepe had
been correct that he went ashore, to find the trails were, indeed, those
of cattle.

"Then, Pepe, we must be somewhere near the Panuco River," he said.

"Quien sabe?" rejoined he, quietly.

When they rounded the curve they came upon a herd of cattle that
clattered up the bank, raising a cloud of dust.

"Wilder than deer!" Ken exclaimed.

From that point conditions along the river changed. The banks were no
longer green; the beautiful cypresses gave place to other trees, as
huge, as moss-wound, but more rugged and of gaunt outline; the flowers
and vines and shady nooks disappeared. Everywhere wide-horned steers and
cows plunged up the banks. Everywhere buzzards rose from gruesome
feasts. The shore was lined with dead cattle, and the stench of
putrefying flesh was almost unbearable. They passed cattle mired in the
mud, being slowly tortured to death by flies and hunger; they passed
cattle that had slipped off steep banks and could not get back and were
bellowing dismally; and also strangely acting cattle that Pepe said had
gone crazy from ticks in their ears. Ken would have put these miserable
beasts out of their misery had not George restrained him with a few
words about Mexican law.

A sense of sickness came to Ken, and though he drove the feeling from
him, it continually returned. George and Hal lay flat on the canvas,
shaded with a couple of palm leaves; Pepe rowed on and on, growing more
and more serious and quiet. His quick, responsive smile was wanting now.

By way of diversion, and also in the hope of securing a specimen, Ken
began to shoot at the crocodiles. George came out of his lethargy and
took up his rifle. He would have had to be ill indeed, to forswear any
possible shooting; and, now that Ken had removed the bar, he forgot he
had fever. Every hundred yards or so they would come upon a crocodile
measuring somewhere from about six feet upward, and occasionally they
would see a great yellow one, as large as a log. Seldom did they get
within good range of these huge fellows, and shooting from a moving boat
was not easy. The smaller ones, however, allowed the boat to approach
quite close. George bounced many a .32 bullet off the bank, but he never
hit a crocodile. Ken allowed him to have the shots for the fun of it,
and, besides, he was watching for a big one.

"George, that rifle of yours is leaded. It doesn't shoot where you aim."

When they got unusually close to a small crocodile George verified Ken's
statement by missing his game some yards. He promptly threw the worn-out
rifle overboard, an act that caused Pepe much concern.

Whereupon Ken proceeded to try his luck. Instructing Pepe to row about
in the middle of the stream, he kept eye on one shore while George
watched the other. He shot half a dozen small crocodiles, but they
slipped off the bank before Pepe could get ashore. This did not appear
to be the fault of the rifle, for some of the reptiles were shot almost
in two pieces. But Ken had yet to learn more about the tenacity of life
of these water-brutes. Several held still long enough for Ken to shoot
them through, then with a plunge they went into the water, sinking at
once in a bloody foam. He knew he had shot them through, for he saw
large holes in the mud-banks lined with bits of bloody skin and bone.

"There's one," said George, pointing. "Let's get closer, so we can grab
him. He's got a good piece to go before he reaches the water."

Pepe rowed slowly along, guiding the boat a little nearer the shore. At
forty feet the crocodile raised up, standing on short legs, so that all
but his tail was free of the ground. He opened his huge jaws either in
astonishment or to intimidate them, and then Ken shot him straight down
the throat. He flopped convulsively and started to slide and roll. When
he reached the water he turned over on his back, with his feet sticking
up, resembling a huge frog. Pepe rowed hard to the shore, just as the
crocodile with one last convulsion rolled off into deeper water. Ken
reached over, grasped his foot, and was drawing it up when a sight of
cold, glassy eyes and open-fanged jaws made him let go. Then the
crocodile sank in water where Pepe could not touch bottom with an oar.

"Let's get one if it takes a week," declared George. The lad might be
sick, but there was nothing wrong with his spirit. "Look there!" he
exclaimed. "Oh, I guess it's a log. Too big!"

They had been unable to tell the difference between a crocodile and a
log of driftwood until it was too late. In this instance a long,
dirty-gray object lay upon a low bank. Despite its immense size, which
certainly made the chances in favor of its being a log, Ken determined
this time to be fooled on the right side. He had seen a dozen logs--as
he thought--suddenly become animated and slip into the river.

"Hold steady, Pepe. I'll take a crack at that just for luck."

The distance was about a hundred yards, a fine range for the little
rifle. Resting on his knee, he sighted low, under the gray object, and
pulled the trigger twice. There were two SPATS so close together as to
be barely distinguishable. The log of driftwood leaped into life.

"Whoop!" shouted Hal.

"It's a crocodile!" yelled George. "You hit--you hit! Will you listen to
that?"

"Row hard, Pepe--pull!"

He bent to the oars, and the boat flew shoreward.

The huge crocodile, opening yard-long jaws, snapped them shut with loud
cracks. Then he beat the bank with his tail. It was as limber as a
willow, but he seemed unable to move his central parts, his thick bulk,
where Ken had sent the two mushroom bullets. WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! The
sodden blows jarred pieces from the clay-bank above him. Each blow was
powerful enough to have staved in the planking of a ship. All at once he
lunged upward and, falling over backward, slid down his runway into a
few inches of water, where he stuck.

"Go in above him, Pepe," Ken shouted. "Here--Heavens! What a monster!"

Deliberately, at scarce twenty feet, Ken shot the remaining four shells
into the crocodile. The bullets tore through his horny hide, and blood
and muddy water spouted up. George and Pepe and Hal yelled, and Ken kept
time with them. The terrible lashing tail swung back and forth almost
too swiftly for the eye to catch. A deluge of mud and water descended
upon the boys, bespattering, blinding them and weighing down the boat.
They jumped out upon the bank to escape it. They ran to and fro in
aimless excitement. Ken still clutched the rifle, but he had no shells
for it. George was absurd enough to fling a stone into the blood-tinged
cloud of muddy froth and spray that hid the threshing leviathan.
Presently the commotion subsided enough for them to see the great
crocodile lying half on his back, with belly all torn and bloody and
huge claw-like hands pawing the air. He was edging, slipping off into
deeper water.

"He'll get away--he'll get away!" cried Hal. "What'll we do?"

Ken racked his brains.

"Pepe, get your lasso--rope him--rope him! Hurry! he's slipping!" yelled
George.

Pepe snatched up his lariat, and, without waiting to coil it, cast the
loop. He caught one of the flippers and hauled tight on it just as the
crocodile slipped out of sight off the muddy ledge. The others ran to
the boat, and, grasping hold of the lasso with Pepe, squared away and
began to pull. Plain it was that the crocodile was not coming up so
easily. They could not budge him.

"Hang on, boys!" Ken shouted. "It's a tug-of-war."

The lasso was suddenly jerked out with a kind of twang. Crash! went Pepe
and Hal into the bottom of the boat. Ken went sprawling into the mud and
George, who had the last hold, went to his knees, but valiantly clung to
the slipping rope. Bounding up, Ken grasped it from him and wound it
round the sharp nose of the bowsprit.

"Get in--hustle!" he called, falling aboard. "You're always saying it's
coming to us. Here's where!"

George had hardly got into the boat when the crocodile pulled it off
shore, and away it went, sailing down-stream.

"Whoop! All aboard for Panuco!" yelled Hal.

"Now, Pepe, you don't need to row any more--we've a water-horse," Ken
added.

But Pepe did not enter into the spirit of the occasion. He kept calling
on the saints and crying, "Mucho malo." George and Ken and Hal, however,
were hilarious. They had not yet had experience enough to know
crocodiles.

Faster and faster they went. The water began to surge away from the bow
and leave a gurgling wake behind the stern. Soon the boat reached the
middle of the river where the water was deepest, and the lasso went
almost straight down.

Ken felt the stern of the boat gradually lifted, and then, in alarm, he
saw the front end sinking in the water. The crocodile was hauling the
bow under.

"Pepe--your machete--cut the lasso!" he ordered, sharply. George had to
repeat the order.

Wildly Pepe searched under the seat and along the gunwales. He could not
find the machete.

"Cut the rope!" Ken thundered. "Use a knife, the ax--anything--only cut
it--and cut it quick!"

Pepe could find nothing. Knife in hand, Ken leaped over his head,
sprawled headlong over the trunk, and slashed the taut lasso just as the
water began to roar into the boat. The bow bobbed up as a cork that had
been under. But the boat had shipped six inches of water.

"Row ashore, Pepe. Steady, there. Trim the boat, George."

They beached at a hard clay-bank and rested a little before unloading to
turn out the water.

"Grande!" observed Pepe.

"Yes; he was big," assented George.

"I wonder what's going to happen to us next," added Hal.

Ken Ward looked at these companions of his and he laughed outright.
"Well, if you all don't take the cake for nerve!"



XX

TREED BY WILD PIGS


Pepe's long years of mozo work, rowing for tarpon fishermen, now stood
the boys in good stead. All the hot hours of the day he bent steadily to
the oars. Occasionally they came to rifts, but these were not difficult
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 at
the scarcity of camp-sites.

The muddy margins of the river, the steep banks, and the tick-infested
forests offered few places where it was possible to rest, to say nothing
of sleep. Every turn in the widening river gave Ken hope, which resulted
in disappointment. He found consolation, however, in the fact that 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 small
sand-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 pitch
camp here."

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

Ken could not recover his former good spirits. There was a sense of
foreboding 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 himself
of gloom. If he had answered the question that knocked at his mind he
would have admitted a certainty of disaster. So he kept active, and when
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 the
herons and cranes and ducks. But they saw no more of the beautiful pato
real, as Pepe called them, or the little russet-colored ducks, or the
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 his
appetite altogether. Hal had lost his taste for meat, at least. And Ken
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 out
remembrance of the green water and the shore-line of dead and decaying
cattle. Still, he was parched with thirst; he had to drink. That night
he slept ten hours without turning over. Next morning he had to shake
Pepe to rouse him.

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

The sun was just tipping with gold the mossy crests of a grove of giant
ceibas, when the boys rounded a bend to come upon the first ledge of
rocks for two days. A low, grassy promontory invited the eyes searching
for camping-ground. This spot appeared ideal; it certainly was
beautiful. The ledge jutted into the river almost to the opposite shore,
forcing the water to rush through a rocky trough into a great
foam-spotted pool below.

They could not pitch the tent, since the stony ground would not admit
stakes, 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 a little
spring of sweet water trickling from the ledge, and by digging a hole
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 his
attention 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 little
heed to George's departure. Presently, however, he was startled by
unmistakable 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 a
clip in the magazine and dropped several loaded clips and a box of extra
shells into his coat pocket. After his adventure with the jaguar he
decided never again to find himself short of ammunition. Running up the
sloping bank, he entered the forest, shouting for his companions.
Answering cries came from in front and a little to the left. He could
not make out what was said.

Save for drooping moss the forest was comparatively open, and at a
hundred paces from the river-bank were glades covered with thickets and
long grass and short palm-trees. The ground sloped upward quite
perceptibly.

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

Pepe's shrill yells mingled with George's shouts. At first their meaning
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 remembered
the 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 and
wounded vanity. Whereupon he began to climb the slope, stopping every
few steps to listen and look. Ken wondered what had made Pepe go so far
for fire-wood; still, there was nothing but green wood all about.
Walking round a clump of seared and yellow palms that rustled in the
breeze, Ken suddenly espied George's white shirt. He was in a scrubby
sapling not fifteen feet from the ground. Then Ken espied Pepe, perched
in the forks of a ceiba, high above the thickets and low shrubbery. Ken
was 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 shouted
back. His temper had soured a little during the last few days.

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

"Where?"

"Right under us. There! Oh, if they see you! Listen to this." He broke
off a branch, trimmed it of leaves, and flung it down. Ken heard a low,
trampling roar of many hard little feet, brushings in the thicket, and
cracking of twigs. As close as he was, however, he could not see a
moving object. The dead grass and brush were several feet high, up to
his waist in spots, and, though he changed position several times, no
javelin did he see.

"You want to look out. Say, man, these are wild pigs--boars, I tell you!
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 to
word, he worked the automatic as fast as it would shoot, aiming into the
thicket 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 every
side of the trees the victims were in. Nervously Ken clamped a fresh
clip of shells into the rifle. Clouds of dust arose, and strange little
squeals and grunts seemed to come from every quarter. Then the grass and
bushes were suddenly torn apart by swift gray forms with glittering
eyes. They were everywhere.

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

For a thrilling instant Ken stood his ground and fired at the bobbing
gray backs. But every break made in the ranks by the powerful shells
filled in a flash. Before that vicious charge he wavered, then ran as if
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 had
gained. They were at his heels. He ran like a deer. Then, seeing a low
branch, he leaped for it, grasped it with one hand, and, crooking an
elbow round it, swung with the old giant swing.

Before Ken knew how it had happened he was astride a dangerously swaying
branch 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 little
yellow teeth or tusks, and all pointed their sharp noses upward, as if
expecting him to fall into their very mouths. Feeling safe, once more
Ken loaded the rifle and began to kill the biggest, most vicious
javelin. When he had killed twelve in twelve shots, he saw that shooting
a few would be of no avail. There were hundreds, it seemed, and he had
scarcely fifty shells left. Moreover, the rifle-barrel grew so 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 the
slope.

"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 not
obey. Ken heard him coming, and presently saw him enter one of the
little 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 them
are edging out there. Look out! Run, kid, run!"

A troop of javelin flashed into the glade. Hal saw them and raised the
shotgun.

BOOM! He shot both barrels.

The shot tore through the brush all around Ken, but fortunately beneath
him. Neither the noise nor the lead stopped the pugnacious little
peccaries.

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 himself
to an interesting study of his captors, Ken made the startling discovery
that the branch which upheld him was splitting from the tree-trunk. His
heart 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--widened
the 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 off
I'm a goner!"

Ken's eyes were riveted upon the gap where the branch was slowly
separating from the tree-trunk. He glanced about to see if he could not
leap to another branch. There was nothing near that would hold him. In
desperation he resolved to drop the rifle, cautiously get to his feet
upon the branch, and with one spring try to reach the tree. When about
to act upon this last chance he heard Pepe's shrill yell and a crashing
in the brush. Then followed the unmistakable roar and crackling of fire.
Pepe had fired the brush--no, he was making his way toward Ken, armed
with a huge torch.

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

The javelin stirred uneasily, and ran around under Ken, tumbling over
one another.

When Pepe burst through the brush, holding before him long-stemmed palm
leaves flaring in hissing flames, the whole pack of pigs bowled away
into 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 thought
might 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 of
the jungle over a steep bank, and they all had a tumble. It was
necessary 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 do
believe."

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

"Say, young man, you've got to go back after my gun. Why didn't you do
what 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 Ward
treed, do you?"

"Well, you saw him, and that was no joke. But I wish Pepe could have
scared 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 to
blow up like a powder-mine. But this Tamaulipas jungle was not Penetier
Forest. A cloud of smoke rolled up; there was a frequent roaring of dry
palms; but the green growths did not burn. It was not much of a
forest-fire, and Ken concluded that it would soon burn out.

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

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



XXI

THE LEAPING TARPON


Just before dark, when the boys were at supper, a swarm of black
mosquitoes swooped down upon camp.

Pepe could not have shown more fear at angry snakes, and he began to
pile green wood and leaves on the fire to make a heavy smoke.

These mosquitoes were very large, black-bodied, with white-barred wings.
Their bite was as painful as the sting of a bee. After threshing about
until tired out the boys went to bed. But it was only to get up again,
for the mosquitoes could bite through two thicknesses of blanket.

For a wonder every one was quiet. Even George did not grumble. The only
thing to do was to sit or stand in the smoke of the camp-fire. The boys
wore their gloves and wrapped blankets round heads and shoulders. They
crouched over the fire until tired of that position, then stood up till
they could stand no longer. It was a wretched, sleepless night with the
bloodthirsty mosquitoes humming about like a swarm of bees. They did not
go away until dawn.

"That's what I get for losing the mosquito-netting," said Ken, wearily.

Breakfast was not a cheerful meal, despite the fact that the boys all
tried to brace up.

George's condition showed Ken the necessity for renewed efforts to get
out of the jungle. Pepe appeared heavy and slow, and, what was more
alarming, he had lost his appetite. Hal was cross, but seemed to keep
well. It was hard enough for Ken to persuade George and Pepe to take the
bitter doses of quinine, and Hal positively refused.

"It makes me sick, I tell you," said Hal, impatiently.

"But Hal, you ought to be guided by my judgment now," replied Ken,
gently.

"I don't care. I've had enough of bitter pills."

"I ask you--as a favor?" persisted Ken, quietly.

"No!"

"Well, then, I'll have to make you take them."

"Wha-at?" roared Hal.

"If necessary, I'll throw you down and pry open your mouth and get Pepe
to stuff these pills down your throat. There!" went on Ken, and now he
did not recognize his own voice.

Hal looked quickly at his brother, and was amazed and all at once
shaken.

"Why, Ken--" he faltered.

"I ought to have made you take them before," interrupted Ken. "But I've
been too easy. Now, Hal, listen--and you, too, George. I've made a bad
mess of this trip. I got you into this jungle, and I ought to have taken
better care of you, whether you would or not. George has fever. Pepe is
getting it. I'm afraid you won't escape. You all WOULD drink unboiled
water."

"Ken, that's all right, but you can get fever from the bites of the
ticks," said George.

"I dare say. But just the same you could have been careful about the
water. Not only that--look how careless we have been. Think of the
things that have happened! We've gotten almost wild on this trip. We
don't realize. But wait till we get home. Then we'll hardly be able to
believe we ever had these adventures. But our foolishness, our
carelessness, MUST stop right here. If we can't profit by our lucky
escapes yesterday--from that lassoed crocodile and the wild pigs--we are
simply no good. I love fun and sport. But there's a limit. Hal, remember
what old Hiram told you about being foolhardily brave. I think we have
been wonderfully lucky. Now let's deserve our good luck. Let's not prove
what that Tampico hotel-man said. Let's show we are not just
wild-goose-chasing boys. I put it to you straight. I think the real test
is yet to come, and I want you to help me. No more tricks. No more
drinking unboiled water. No more shooting except in self-defense. We
must not eat any more meat. No more careless wandering up the banks. No
chances. See? And fight the fever. Don't give up. Then when we get out
of this awful jungle we can look back at our adventures--and, better, we
can be sure we've learned a lot. We shall have accomplished something,
and that's learning. Now, how about it? Will you help me?"

"You can just bet your life," replied George, and he held out his hand.

"Ken, I'm with you," was Hal's quiet promise; and Ken knew from the way
the lad spoke that he was in dead earnest. When it came to the last
ditch Hal Ward was as true as steel. He took the raw, bitter quinine Ken
offered and swallowed it without a grimace.

"Good!" exclaimed Ken. "Now, boys, let's pack. Hal, you let your
menagerie go. There's no use keeping your pets any longer. George, you
make yourself a bed on the trunk, and fix a palm-leaf sun-shelter. Then
lie down."

When the boat had been packed and all was in readiness for the start,
George was sound asleep. They shoved off into the current. Pepe and Ken
took turns at the oars, making five miles an hour.

As on the day before, they glided under the shadows of the great
moss-twined cypresses, along the muddy banks where crocodiles basked in
the sun and gaunt cattle came down to drink. Once the boat turned a
bushy point to startle a large flock of wild turkeys, perhaps
thirty-five in number. They had been resting in the cool sand along the
river. Some ran up the bank, some half-dozen flew right over the boat,
and most of them squatted down as if to evade detection. Thereafter
turkeys and ducks and geese became so common as to be monotonous.

About one o'clock Ken sighted a thatched bamboo and palm-leaf hut on the
bank.

"Oh, boys, look! look!" cried Ken, joyfully.

Hal was as pleased as Ken, and George roused out of his slumber. Pepe
grinned and nodded his head.

Some naked little children ran like quail. A disheveled black head
peeped out of a door, then swiftly vanished.

"Indians," said George.

"I don't care," replied Ken, "they're human beings--people. We're
getting somewhere."

From there on the little bamboo huts were frequently sighted. And soon
Ken saw a large one situated upon a high bluff. Ken was wondering if
these natives would be hospitable.

Upon rounding the next bend the boys came unexpectedly upon a connecting
river. It was twice as wide as the Santa Rosa, and quite swift.

"Tamaulipas," said Pepe.

"Hooray! boys, this is the source of the Panuco, sure as you're born,"
cried Ken. "I told you we were getting somewhere."

He was overcome with the discovery. This meant success.

"Savalo! Savalo!" exclaimed Pepe, pointing.

"Tarpon! Tarpon! What do you think of that? 'Way up here! We must be a
long distance from tide-water," said George.

Ken looked around over the broad pool below the junction of the two
rivers. And here and there he saw swirls, and big splashes, and then the
silver sides of rolling tarpon.

"Boys, seeing we've packed that can of preserved mullet all the way, and
those thundering heavy tackles, let's try for tarpon," suggested Ken.

It was wonderful to see how the boys responded. Pepe was no longer slow
and heavy. George forgot he was sick. Hal, who loved to fish better than
to hunt, was as enthusiastic as on the first day.

"Ken, let me boss this job," said George, as he began to rig the
tackles. "Pepe will row; you and Hal sit back here and troll. I'll make
myself useful. Open the can. See, I hook the mullet just back of the
head, letting the bar become out free. There! Now run out about forty
feet of line. Steady the butt of the rod under your leg. Put your left
hand above the reel. Hold the handle of the reel in your right, and hold
it hard. The drag is in the handle. Now when a tarpon takes the bait,
jerk with all your might. Their mouths are like iron, and it's hard to
get a hook to stick."

Pepe rowed at a smooth, even stroke and made for the great curve of the
pool where tarpon were breaking water.

"If they're on the feed, we'll have more sport than we've had yet," said
George.

Ken was fascinated, and saw that Hal was going to have the best time of
the trip. Also Ken was very curious to have a tarpon strike. He had no
idea what it would be like. Presently, when the boat glided among the
rolling fish and there was prospect of one striking at any moment, Ken
could not subdue a mounting excitement.

"Steady now--be ready," warned George.

Suddenly Hal's line straightened. The lad yelled and jerked at the same
instant. There came a roar of splitting waters, and a beautiful silver
fish, longer than Hal himself, shot up into the air. The tarpon shook
himself and dropped back into the water with a crash.

Hal was speechless. He wound in his line to find the bait gone.

"Threw the hook," said George, as he reached into the can for another
bait. "He wasn't so big. You'll get used to losing 'em. There! try
again."

Ken had felt several gentle tugs at his line, as if tarpon were rolling
across it. And indeed he saw several fish swim right over where his line
disappeared in the water. There were splashes all around the boat, some
gentle swishes and others hard, cutting rushes. Then his line
straightened with a heavy jerk. He forgot to try to hook the fish;
indeed, he had no time. The tarpon came half out of the water, wagged
his head, and plumped back. Ken had not hooked the fish, nor had the
fish got the bait. So Ken again let out his line.

The next thing which happened was that the boys both had strikes at the
same instant. Hal stood up, and as his tarpon leaped it pulled him
forward, and he fell into the stern-seat. His reel-handle rattled on the
gunwale. The line hissed. Ken leaned back and jerked. His fish did not
break water, but he was wonderfully active under the surface. Pepe was
jabbering. George was yelling. Hal's fish was tearing the water to
shreds. He crossed Ken's fish; the lines fouled, and then slacked. Ken
began to wind in. Hal rose to do likewise.

"Gee!" he whispered, with round eyes.

Both lines had been broken. George made light of this incident, and tied
on two more leaders and hooks and baited afresh.

"The fish are on the feed, boys. It's a cinch you'll each catch one.
Better troll one at a time, unless you can stand for crossed lines."

But Ken and Hal were too eager to catch a tarpon to troll one at a time,
so once more they let their lines out. A tarpon took Hal's bait right
under the stern of the boat. Hal struck with all his might. This fish
came up with a tremendous splash, drenching the boys. His great,
gleaming silver sides glistened in the sun. He curved his body and
straightened out with a snap like the breaking of a board, and he threw
the hook whistling into the air.

Before Hal had baited up, Ken got another strike. This fish made five
leaps, one after the other, and upon the last threw the hook like a
bullet. As he plunged down, a beautiful rainbow appeared in the misty
spray.

"Hal, do you see that rainbow?" cried Ken, quickly. "There's a sight for
a fisherman!"

This time in turn, before Ken started to troll, Hal hooked another
tarpon. This one was not so large, but he was active. His first rush was
a long surge on the surface. He sent the spray in two streaks like a
motor-boat. Then he sounded.

"Hang on, Hal!" yelled George and Ken in unison.

Hal was bent almost double and his head was bobbing under the strain. He
could not hold the drag. The line was whizzing out.

"You got that one hooked," shouted George. "Let go the reel--drop the
handle. Let him run."

He complied, and then his fish began a marvelous exhibition of lofty
tumbling. He seemed never to stay down at all. Now he shot up, mouth
wide, gills spread, eyes wild, and he shook himself like a wet dog. Then
he dropped back, and before the boys had time to think where he might be
he came up several rods to the right and cracked his gills like
pistol-shots. He skittered on his tail and stood on his head and dropped
flat with a heavy smack. Then he stayed under and began to tug.

"Hang on, now," cried George. "Wind in. Hold him tight. Don't give him
an inch unless he jumps."

This was heartbreaking work for Hal. He toiled to keep the line in. He
grew red in the face. He dripped with sweat. He panted for breath. But
he hung on.

Ken saw how skilfully Pepe managed the boat. The mozo seemed to know
just which way the fish headed, and always kept the boat straight.
Sometimes he rowed back and lent his help to Hal. But this appeared to
anger the tarpon, for the line told he was coming to the surface. Then,
as Pepe ceased to let him feel the weight of the boat, the tarpon sank
again. So the battle went on round and round the great pool. After an
hour of it Hal looked ready to drop.

"Land him alone if you can," said Ken. "He's tiring, Hal."

"I'll--land him--or--or bust!" panted Hal.

"Look out, now!" warned George again. "He's coming up. See the line. Be
ready to trim the boat if he drops aboard. WOW!"

The tarpon slipped smoothly out of the water and shot right over the bow
of the boat. Quick-witted George flung out his hand and threw Hal's rod
round in time to save the line from catching. The fish went down, came
up wagging his head, and then fell with sullen splash.

"He's done," yelled George. "Now, Hal, hold him for all you're worth.
Not an inch of line!"

Pepe headed the boat for a sandy beach; and Hal, looking as if about to
have a stroke of apoplexy, clung desperately to the bending rod. The
tarpon rolled and lashed his tail, but his power was mostly gone.
Gradually he ceased to roll, until by the time Pepe reached shore he was
sliding wearily through the water, his silvery side glittering in the
light.

The boat grated on the sand. Pepe leaped out. Then he grasped Hal's
line, slipped his hands down to the long wire leader, and with a quick,
powerful pull slid the tarpon out upon the beach.

"Oh-h!" gasped Hal, with glistening eyes. "Oh-h! Ken, just look!"

"I'm looking, son, and don't you forget it."

The tarpon lay inert, a beautiful silver-scaled creature that looked as
if he had just come from a bath of melted opals. The great dark eyes
were fixed and staring, the tail moved feebly, the long dorsal fin
quivered.

He measured five feet six inches in length, which was one inch more than
Hal's height.

"Ken, the boys back home will never believe I caught him," said Hal, in
distress.

"Take his picture to prove it," replied Ken.

Hal photographed his catch. Pepe took out the hook, showing, as he did
so, the great iron-like plates in the mouth of the fish.

"No wonder it's hard to hook them," said Ken.

Hal certainly wanted his beautiful fish to go back, free and little
hurt, to the river. But also he wanted him for a specimen. Hal
deliberated. Evidently he was considering the labor of skinning such a
huge fish and the difficulty of preserving and packing the hide.

"Say, Hal, wouldn't you like to see me hook one?" queried Ken,
patiently.

That brought Hal to his senses.

"Sure, Ken, old man, I want you to catch one--a big one--bigger than
mine," replied Hal, and restored the fish to the water.

They all watched the liberated tarpon swim wearily off and slip down
under the water.

"He'll have something to tell the rest, won't he?" said George.

In a few minutes the boat was again in the center of the great pool
among the rolling tarpon. Ken had a strike immediately. He missed. Then
he tried again. And in a short space of time he saw five tarpon in the
air, one after the other, and not one did he hook securely. He got six
leaps out of one, however, and that was almost as good as landing him.

"There're some whales here," said George.

"Grande savalo," added Pepe, and he rowed over to where a huge fish was
rolling.

"Oh, I don't want to hook the biggest one first," protested Ken.

Pepe rowed to and fro. The boys were busy trying to see the rolling
tarpon. There would be a souse on one side, then a splash on the other,
then a thump behind. What with trying to locate all these fish and still
keep an eye on Ken's line the boys almost dislocated their necks.

Then, quick as a flash, Ken had a strike that pulled him out of his seat
to his knees. He could not jerk. His line was like a wire. It began to
rise. With all his strength he held on. The water broke in a hollow,
slow roar, and a huge humpbacked tarpon seemed to be climbing into the
air. But he did not get all the way out, and he plunged back with a
thunderous crash. He made as much noise as if a horse had fallen off a
bridge.

The handle of the reel slipped out of Ken's grasp, and it was well. The
tarpon made a long, wonderful run and showed on the surface a hundred
yards from the boat. He was irresistibly powerful. Ken was astounded and
thrilled at his strength and speed. There, far away from the boat, the
tarpon leaped magnificently, clearing the water, and then went down. He
did not come up again.

"Ken, he's a whale," said George. "I believe he's well hooked. He won't
jump any more. And you've got a job on your hands."

"I want him to jump."

"The big ones seldom break water after the first rush or so."

"Ken, it's coming to you with that fellow," said Hal. "My left arm is
paralyzed. Honestly, I can pinch it and not feel the pain."

Pepe worked the boat closer and Ken reeled in yard after yard of line.
The tarpon was headed down-stream, and he kept up a steady, strong
strain.

"Let him tow the boat," said George. "Hold the drag, Ken. Let him tow
the boat."

"What!" exclaimed Ken, in amaze.

"Oh, he'll do it, all right."

And so it proved. Ken's tarpon, once headed with the current, did not
turn, and he towed the boat.

"This is a new way for me to tire out a fish," said Ken. "What do you
think of it, Hal?"

Hal's eyes glistened.

"This is fishing. Ken, did you see him when he came up?"

"Not very clearly. I had buck-fever. You know how a grouse looks when he
flushes right under your feet--a kind of brown blur. Well, this was the
same, only silver."

At the end of what Ken judged to be a mile the tarpon was still going.
At the end of the second mile he was tired. And three miles down the
river from where the fish was hooked Pepe beached the boat on a sandbar
and hauled ashore a tarpon six feet ten inches long.

Here Ken echoed Hal's panting gasp of wonder and exultation. As he sat
down on the boat to rest he had no feeling in his left arm, and little
in his right. His knuckles were skinned and bloody. No game of baseball
he had ever pitched had taken his strength like the conquest of this
magnificent fish.

"Hal, we'll have some more of this fishing when we get to Tampico," said
Ken. "Why, this beats hunting. You have the sport, and you needn't kill
anything. This tarpon isn't hurt."

So Ken photographed his prize and measured him, and, taking a last
lingering glance at the great green back, the silver-bronze sides, the
foot-wide flukes of the tail, at the whole quivering fire-tinted length,
he slid the tarpon back into the river.



XXII

STRICKEN DOWN


Much as Ken would have liked to go back to that pool, he did not think
of it twice. And as soon as the excitement had subsided and the journey
was resumed, George and Hal, and Pepe, too, settled down into a silent
weariness that made Ken anxious.

During the afternoon Ken saw Pepe slowly droop lower and lower at the
oars till the time came when he could scarcely lift them to make a
stroke. And when Ken relieved him of them, Pepe fell like a log in the
boat.

George slept. Hal seemed to be fighting stupor. Pepe lay motionless on
his seat. They were all going down with the fever, that Ken knew, and it
took all his courage to face the situation. It warmed his heart to see
how Hal was trying to bear up under a languor that must have been
well-nigh impossible to resist. At last Hal said:

"Ken, let me row." He would not admit that he was sick.

Ken thought it would do Hal no harm to work. But Ken did not want to
lose time. So he hit upon a plan that pleased him. There was an extra
pair of oars in the boat. Ken fashioned rude pegs from a stick and drove
these down into the cleat inside the gunwales. With stout rope he tied
the oars to the pegs, which answered fairly well as oarlocks. Then they
had a double set of oars going, and made much better time.

George woke and declared that he must take a turn at the oars. So Ken
let him row, too, and rested himself. He had a grim foreboding that he
would need all his strength.

The succeeding few hours before sunset George and Hal more than made up
for all their delinquencies of the past. At first it was not very hard
for them to row; but soon they began to weary, then weaken. Neither one,
however, would give up. Ken let them row, knowing that it was good for
them. Slower and slower grew George's strokes. There were times when he
jerked up spasmodically and made an effort, only to weaken again. At
last, with a groan he dropped the oars. Ken had to lift him back into
the bow.

Hal was not so sick as George, and therefore not so weak. He lasted
longer. Ken had seen the lad stick to many a hard job, but never as he
did to this one. Hal was making good his promise. There were times when
his breath came in whistles. He would stop and pant awhile, then row on.
Ken pretended he did not notice. But he had never been so proud of his
brother nor loved him so well.

"Ken, old man," said Hal, presently. "I was--wrong--about the water. I
ought to have obeyed you. I--I'm pretty sick."

What a confession for Hal Ward!

Ken turned in time to see Hal vomit over the gunwale.

"It's pretty tough, Hal," said Ken, as he reached out to hold his
brother's head; "but you're game. I'm so glad to see that."

Whereupon Hal went back to his oars and stayed till he dropped. Ken
lifted him and laid him beside George.

Ken rowed on with his eyes ever in search of a camping-site. But there
was no place to camp. The muddy banks were too narrow at the bottom, too
marshy and filthy. And they were too steep to climb to the top.

The sun set. Twilight fell. Darkness came on, and still Ken rowed down
the river. At last he decided to make a night of it at the oars. He
preferred to risk the dangers of the river at night rather than spend
miserable hours in the mud. Rousing the boys, he forced them to swallow
a little cold rice and some more quinine. Then he covered them with
blankets, and had scarce completed the task when they were deep in
slumber.

Then the strange, dense tropical night settled down upon Ken. The oars
were almost noiseless, and the water gurgled softly from the bow.
Overhead the expanse was dark blue, with a few palpitating stars. The
river was shrouded in gray gloom, and the banks were lost in black
obscurity. Great fireflies emphasized the darkness. He trusted a good
deal to luck in the matter of going right; yet he kept his ear keen for
the sound of quickening current, and turned every few strokes to peer
sharply into the gloom. He seemed to have little sense of peril, for,
though he hit submerged logs and stranded on bars, he kept on unmindful,
and by and by lost what anxiety he had felt. The strange wildness of the
river at night, the gray, veiled space into which he rowed unheeding
began to work upon his mind.

That was a night to remember--a night of sounds and smells, of the
feeling of the cool mist, the sight of long, dark forest-line and a
golden moon half hidden by clouds. Prominent among these was the trill
of river frogs. The trill of a northern frog was music, but that of
these great, silver-throated jungle frogs was more than music. Close at
hand one would thrill Ken with mellow, rich notes; and then from far
would come the answer, a sweet, high tenor, wilder than any other
wilderness sound, long sustained, dying away till he held his breath to
listen.

So the hours passed; and the moon went down into the weird shadows, and
the Southern Cross rose pale and wonderful.

Gradually the stars vanished in a kind of brightening gray, and dawn was
at hand. Ken felt weary for sleep, and his arms and back ached. Morning
came, with its steely light on the river, the rolling and melting of
vapors, the flight of ducks and call of birds. The rosy sun brought no
cheer.

Ken beached the boat on a sand-bar. While he was building a fire George
raised his head and groaned. But neither Pepe nor Hal moved. Ken cooked
rice and boiled cocoa, which he choked down. He opened a can of fruit
and found that most welcome. Then he lifted George's head, shook him,
roused him, and held him, and made him eat and drink. Nor did he neglect
to put a liberal dose of quinine in the food. Pepe was easily managed,
but poor Hal was almost unable to swallow. Something terribly grim
mingled with a strong, passionate thrill as Ken looked at Hal's haggard
face. Then Ken Ward knew how much he could stand, what work he could do
to get his brother out of the jungle.

He covered the boys again and pushed out the boat. At the moment he felt
a strength that he had never felt before. There was a good, swift
current in the river, and Ken was at great pains to keep in it. The
channel ran from one side of the river to the other. Many times Ken
stranded on sandy shoals and had to stand up and pole the boat into
deeper water. This was work that required all his attention. It required
more than patience. But as he rowed and poled and drifted he studied the
shallow ripples and learned to avoid the places where the boat would not
float.

There were stretches of river where the water was comparatively deep,
and along these he rested and watched the shores as he drifted by. He
saw no Indian huts that morning. The jungle loomed high and dark, a
matted gray wall. The heat made the river glare and smoke. Then where
the current quickened he rowed steadily and easily, husbanding his
strength.

More than all else, even the ravings of Hal in fever, the thing that
wore on Ken and made him gloomy was the mourning of turtle-doves. As
there had been thousands of these beautiful birds along the Santa Rosa
River, so there were millions along the Panuco. Trees were blue with
doves. There was an incessant soft, sad moaning. He fought his nervous,
sensitive imaginings. And for a time he would conquer the sense of some
sad omen sung by the doves. Then the monotony, the endless sweet
"coo-ooo-ooo," seemed to drown him in melancholy sound. There were three
distinct tones--a moan, swelling to full ring, and dying away:
"Coo-OOO-ooo--coo-OOO-ooo."

All the afternoon the mourning, haunting song filled Ken Ward's ears.
And when the sun set and night came, with relief to his tortured ear but
not to mind, Ken kept on without a stop.

The day had slipped behind Ken with the miles, and now it was again
dark. It seemed that he had little sense of time. But his faculties of
sight and hearing were singularly acute. Otherwise his mind was like the
weird gloom into which he was drifting.

Before the stars came out the blackness was as thick as pitch. He could
not see a yard ahead. He backed the boat stern first down-stream and
listened for the soft murmur of ripples on shoals. He avoided these by
hearing alone. Occasionally a huge, dark pile of driftwood barred his
passage, and he would have to go round it. Snags loomed up specter-like
in his path, seemingly to reach for him with long, gaunt arms. Sometimes
he drifted upon sand-bars, from which he would patiently pole the boat.

When the heavy dew began to fall he put on his waterproof coat. The
night grew chill. Then the stars shone out. This lightened the river.
Yet everywhere were shadows. Besides, clouds of mist hung low, in places
obscuring the stars.

Ken turned the boat bow first downstream and rowed with slow, even
stroke. He no longer felt tired. He seemed to have the strength of a
giant. He fancied that with one great heave he could lift the boat out
of the water or break the oars. From time to time he ceased to row, and,
turning his head, he looked and listened. The river had numerous bends,
and it was difficult for Ken to keep in the middle channel. He managed
pretty well to keep right by watching the dark shore-line where it met
the deep-blue sky. In the bends the deepest water ran close to the shore
of the outside curve. And under these high banks and the leaning
cypresses shadows were thicker and blacker than in the earlier night.
There was mystery in them that Ken felt.

The sounds he heard when he stopped during these cautious resting
intervals were the splashes of fish breaking water, the low hum of
insects, and the trill of frogs. The mourning of the doves during
daylight had haunted him, and now he felt the same sensation at this
long-sustained, exquisitely sweet trill. It pierced him, racked him, and
at last, from sheer exhaustion of his sensibilities, he seemed not to
hear it any more, but to have it in his brain.

The moon rose behind the left-hand jungle wall, silvered half of the
river and the opposite line of cypresses, then hid under clouds.

Suddenly, near or far away, down the river Ken saw a wavering light. It
was too large for a firefly, and too steady. He took it for a
Jack-o'-lantern. And for a while it enhanced the unreality, the
ghostliness of the river. But it was the means of bringing Ken out of
his dreamy gloom. It made him think. The light was moving. It was too
wavering for a Jack-o'-lantern. It was coming up-stream. It grew larger.

Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it vanished. Ken lost sight of it
under a deep shadow of overhanging shore. As he reached a point opposite
to where it disappeared he thought he heard a voice. But he could not be
sure. He did not trust his ears. The incident, however, gave him a
chill. What a lonesome ride! He was alone on that unknown river with
three sick boys in the boat. Their lives depended upon his care, his
strength, his skill, his sight and hearing. And the realization,
striking him afresh, steeled his arms again and his spirit.

The night wore on. The moon disappeared entirely. The mists hung low
like dim sheets along the water. Ken was wringing-wet with dew. Long
periods of rowing he broke with short intervals of drifting, when he
rested at the oars.

Then drowsiness attacked him. For hours it seemed he fought it off. But
at length it grew overpowering. Only hard rowing would keep him awake.
And, as he wanted to reserve his strength, he did not dare exert himself
violently. He could not keep his eyes open. Time after time he found
himself rowing when he was half asleep. The boat drifted against a log
and stopped. Ken drooped over his oars and slept, and yet he seemed not
altogether to lose consciousness. He roused again to row on.

It occurred to him presently that he might let the boat drift and take
naps between whiles. When he drifted against a log or a sand-bar the jar
would awaken him. The current was sluggish. There seemed to be no danger
whatever. He must try to keep his strength. A little sleep would refresh
him. So he reasoned, and fell asleep over the oars.

Sooner or later--he never knew how long after he had fallen asleep--a
little jar awakened him. Then the gurgle and murmur of water near him
and the rush and roar of a swift current farther off made him look up
with a violent start. All about him was wide, gray gloom. Yet he could
see the dark, glancing gleam of the water. Movement of the oars told him
the boat was fast on a sand-bar. That relieved him, for he was not
drifting at the moment into the swift current he heard. Ken peered
keenly into the gloom. Gradually he made out a long, dark line running
diagonally ahead of him and toward the right-hand shore. It could not be
an island or a sand-bar or a shore-line. It could not be piles of
driftwood. There was a strange regularity in the dark upheavals of this
looming object. Ken studied it. He studied the black, glancing water.
Whatever the line was, it appeared to shunt the current over to the
right, whence came the low rush and roar.

Altogether it was a wild, strange place. Ken felt a fear of something he
could not name. It was the river--the night--the loneliness--the unknown
about him and before him.

Suddenly he saw a dull, red light far down the river. He stiffened in
his seat. Then he saw another red light. They were like two red eyes.
Ken shook himself to see if he had nightmare. No; the boat was there;
the current was there; the boys were there, dark and silent under their
blankets. This was no dream. Ken's fancy conjured up some red-eyed river
demon come to destroy him and his charges. He scorned the fancy, laughed
at it. But, all the same, in that dark, weird place, with the murmuring
of notes in his ears and with those strange red eyes glowing in the
distance, he could not help what his emotions made the truth. He was
freezing to the marrow, writhing in a clammy sweat when a low
"chug-chug-chug" enlightened him. The red eyes were those of a
steamboat.

A steamboat on the wild Panuco! Ken scarcely believed his own judgment.
Then he remembered that George said there were a couple of boats plying
up and down the lower Panuco, mostly transporting timber and cattle.
Besides, he had proof of his judgment in the long, dark line that had so
puzzled him--it was a breakwater. It turned the current to the left,
where there evidently was a channel.

The great, red eyes gleamed closer, the "chug-chug-chug" sounded louder.
Then another sound amazed Ken--a man's voice crying out steadily and
monotonously.

Ken wanted to rouse the boys and Pepe, but he refrained. It was best for
them to sleep. How surprised they would be when he told them about the
boat that passed in the night! Ken now clearly heard the splashing of
paddles, the chug of machinery, and the man's voice. He was singsonging:
"Dos y media, dos y media, dos y media."

Ken understood a little Mexican, and this strange cry became clear to
him. The man was taking soundings with a lead and crying out to the
pilot. Dos y media meant two and a half feet of water. Then the
steamboat loomed black in the gray gloom. It was pushing a low, flat
barge. Ken could not see the man taking soundings, but he heard him and
knew he was on the front end of the barge. The boat passed at fair
speed, and it cheered Ken. For he certainly ought to be able to take a
rowboat where a steamboat had passed. And, besides, he must be getting
somewhere near the little village of Panuco.

He poled off the bar and along the breakwater to the channel. It was
narrow and swift. He wondered how the pilot of the steamboat had
navigated in the gloom. He slipped down-stream, presently to find
himself once more in a wide river. Refreshed by his sleep and encouraged
by the meeting with the steamboat, Ken settled down to steady rowing.

The stars paled, the mist thickened, fog obscured the water and shore;
then all turned gray, lightened, and dawn broke. The sun burst out. Ken
saw thatched huts high on the banks and occasionally natives. This
encouraged him all the more.

He was not hungry, but he was sick for a drink. He had to fight himself
to keep from drinking the dirty river-water. How different it was here
from the clear green of the upper Santa Rosa! Ken would have given his
best gun for one juicy orange. George was restless and rolling about,
calling for water; Hal lay in slumber or stupor; and Pepe sat up. He was
a sick-looking fellow, but he was better; and that cheered Ken as
nothing yet had.

Ken beached the boat on a sandy shore, and once again forced down a
little rice and cocoa. Pepe would not eat, yet he drank a little. George
was burning up with fever, and drank a full cup. Hal did not stir, and
Ken thought it best to let him lie.

As Ken resumed the journey the next thing to attract his attention was a
long canoe moored below one of the thatched huts. This afforded him
great satisfaction. At least he had passed the jungle wilderness, where
there was nothing that even suggested civilization. In the next few
miles he noticed several canoes and as many natives. Then he passed a
canoe that was paddled by two half-naked bronze Indians. Pepe hailed
them, but either they were too unfriendly to reply or they did not
understand him.

Some distance below Pepe espied a banana grove, and he motioned Ken to
row ashore. Ken did so with pleasure at the thought of getting some
fresh fruit. There was a canoe moored to the roots of a tree and a path
leading up the steep bank. Pepe got out and laboriously toiled up the
bare path. He was gone a good while.

Presently Ken heard shouts, then the bang of a lightly loaded gun, then
yells from Pepe.

"What on earth!" cried Ken, looking up in affright.

Pepe appeared with his arms full of red bananas. He jumped and staggered
down the path and almost fell into the boat. But he hung on to the
bananas.

"Santa Maria!" gasped Pepe, pointing to little bloody spots on the calf
of his leg.

"Pepe, you've been shot!" ejaculated Ken. "You stole the fruit--somebody
shot you!"

Pepe howled his affirmative. Ken was angry at himself, angrier at Pepe,
and angriest at the native who had done the shooting. With a strong
shove Ken put the boat out and then rowed hard down-stream. As he
rounded a bend a hundred yards below he saw three natives come tumbling
down the path. They had a gun. They leaped into the canoe. They meant
pursuit.

"Say, but this is a pretty kettle of fish!" muttered Ken, and he bent to
the oars.

Of course Pepe had been in the wrong. He should have paid for the
bananas or asked for them. All the same, Ken was not in any humor to be
fooled with by excitable natives. He had a sick brother in the boat and
meant to get that lad out of the jungle as quickly as will and strength
could do it. He certainly did not intend to be stopped by a few
miserable Indians angry over the loss of a few bananas. If it had not
been for the gun, Ken would have stopped long enough to pay for the
fruit. But he could not risk it now. So he pulled a strong stroke
down-stream.

The worst of the matter developed when Pepe peeled one of the bananas.
It was too green to eat.

Presently the native canoe hove in sight round the bend. All three men
were paddling. They made the long craft fly through the water. Ken saw
instantly that they would overhaul him in a long race, and this added to
his resentment. Pepe looked back and jabbered and shook his brawny fists
at the natives. Ken was glad to see that the long stretch of river below
did not show a canoe or hut along the banks. He preferred to be
overhauled, if he had to be, in a rather lonely spot.

It was wonderful how those natives propelled that log canoe. And when
one of the three dropped his paddle to pick up the gun, the speed of the
canoe seemed not to diminish. They knew the channels, and so gained on
Ken. He had to pick the best he could choose at short notice, and
sometimes he chose poorly.

Two miles or more below the bend the natives with the gun deliberately
fired, presumably at Pepe. The shot scattered and skipped along the
water and did not come near the boat. Nevertheless, as the canoe was
gaining and the crazy native was reloading, Ken saw he would soon be
within range. Something had to be done.

Ken wondered if he could not frighten those natives. They had probably
never heard the quick reports of a repeating rifle, let alone the
stinging cracks of an automatic. Ken decided it would be worth trying.
But he must have a chance to get the gun out of its case and load it.

That chance came presently. The natives, in paddling diagonally across a
narrow channel, ran aground in the sand. They were fast for only a few
moments, but in that time Ken had got out the little rifle and loaded
it.

Pepe's dark face turned a dirty white, and his eyes dilated. He imagined
Ken was going to kill some of his countrymen. But Pepe never murmured.
He rubbed the place in his leg where he had been shot, and looked back.

Ken rowed on, now leisurely. There was a hot anger within him, but he
had it in control. He knew what he was about. Again the native fired,
and again his range was short. The distance was perhaps two hundred
yards.

Ken waited until the canoe, in crossing one of the many narrow places,
was broadside toward him. Then he raised the automatic. There were at
least ten feet in the middle of the canoe where it was safe for him to
hit without harm to the natives. And there he aimed. The motion of his
boat made it rather hard to keep the sights right. He was cool, careful;
he aimed low, between gunwale and the water, and steadily he pulled the
trigger--once, twice, three times, four, five.

The steel-jacketed bullets "spoued" on the water and "cracked" into the
canoe. They evidently split both gunwales low down at the water-line.
The yelling, terror-stricken natives plunged about, and what with their
actions and the great split in the middle the canoe filled and sank. The
natives were not over their depth; that was plainly evident. Moreover,
it was equally evident that they dared not wade in the quicksand. So
they swam to the shallower water, and there, like huge turtles,
floundered toward the shore.



XXIII

OUT OF THE JUNGLE


Before the natives had reached the shore they were hidden from Ken's
sight by leaning cypress-trees. Ken, however, had no fear for their
safety. He was sorry to cause the Indians' loss of a gun and a canoe;
nevertheless, he was not far from echoing Pepe's repeated: "Bueno!
Bueno! Bueno!"

Upon examination Ken found two little bloody holes in the muscles of
Pepe's leg. A single shot had passed through. Ken bathed the wounds with
an antiseptic lotion and bound them with clean bandages.

Pepe appeared to be pretty weak, so Ken did not ask him to take the
oars. Then, pulling with long, steady stroke, Ken set out to put a long
stretch between him and the angry natives. The current was swift, and
Ken made five miles or more an hour. He kept that pace for three hours
without a rest. And then he gave out. It seemed that all at once he
weakened. His back bore an immense burden. His arms were lead, and his
hands were useless. There was an occasional mist or veil before his
sight. He was wet, hot, breathless, numb. But he knew he was safe from
pursuit. So he rested and let the boat drift.

George sat up, green in the face, a most miserable-looking boy. But that
he could sit up at all was hopeful.

"Oh, my head!" he moaned. "Is there anything I can drink? My mouth is
dry--pasted shut."

Ken had two lemons he had been saving. He cut one in halves and divided
it between Pepe and George. The relief the sour lemon afforded both
showed Ken how wise he had been to save the lemons. Then he roused Hal,
and, lifting the lad's head, made him drink a little of the juice. Hal
was a sick boy, too weak to sit up without help.

"Don't--you worry--Ken," he said. "I'm going--to be--all right."

Hal was still fighting.

Ken readjusted the palm-leaf shelter over the boys so as to shade them
effectually from the hot sun, and then he went back to the oars.

As he tried once more to row, Ken was reminded of the terrible lassitude
that had overtaken him the day he had made the six-hour climb out of the
Grand Canyon. The sensation now was worse, but Ken had others depending
upon his exertions, and that spurred him to the effort which otherwise
would have been impossible.

It was really not rowing that Ken accomplished. It was a weary puttering
with oars he could not lift, handles he could not hold. At best he
managed to guide the boat into the swiftest channels. Whenever he felt
that he was just about to collapse, then he would look at Hal's pale
face. That would revive him. So the hot hours dragged by.

They came, after several miles, upon more huts and natives. And farther
down they met canoes on the river. Pepe interrogated the natives.
According to George, who listened, Panuco was far, far away, many
kilometers. This was most disheartening. Another native said the village
was just round the next bend. This was most happy information. But it
turned out to be a lie. There was no village around any particular
bend--nothing save bare banks for miles. The stretches of the river were
long, and bends far apart.

Ken fell asleep. When he awoke he found Pepe at the oars. Watching him,
Ken fancied he was recovering, and was overjoyed.

About four o'clock in the afternoon Pepe rowed ashore and beached the
boat at the foot of a trail leading up to a large bamboo and thatch hut.
This time Ken thought it well to accompany Pepe. And as he climbed the
path he found his legs stiffer and shakier than ever before.

Ken saw a cleared space in which were several commodious huts, gardens,
and flowers. There was a grassy yard in which little naked children were
playing with tame deer and tiger-cats. Parrots were screeching, and
other tame birds fluttered about. It appeared a real paradise to Ken.

Two very kindly disposed and wondering native women made them welcome.
Then Ken and Pepe went down to the boat and carried Hal up, and went
back for George.

It developed that the native women knew just what to do for the
fever-stricken boys. They made some kind of a native drink for them, and
after that gave them hot milk and chicken and rice soup. George improved
rapidly, and Hal brightened a little and showed signs of gathering
strength.

Ken could not eat until he had something to quench his thirst. Upon
inquiring, Pepe found that the natives used the river-water. Ken could
not drink that. Then Pepe pointed out an orange-tree, and Ken made a
dive for it. The ground was littered with oranges. Collecting an armful,
Ken sat under the tree and with wild haste began to squeeze the juice
into his mouth. Never had anything before tasted so cool, so sweet, so
life-giving! He felt a cool, wet sensation steal all through his body.
He never knew till that moment how really wonderful and precious an
orange could be. He thought that as he would hate mourning turtle-doves
all the rest of his life, so he would love the sight and smell and taste
of oranges. And he demolished twenty-two before he satisfied his almost
insatiable thirst. After that the chicken and rice made him feel like a
new boy.

Then Ken made beds under a kind of porch, and he lay down in one,
stretched out languidly and gratefully, as if he never intended to move
again, and his eyes seemed to be glued shut.

When he awoke the sun was shining in his face. When he had gone to bed
it had been shining at his back. He consulted his watch. He had slept
seventeen hours.

When he got up and found Pepe as well as before he had been taken with
the fever and George on his feet and Hal awake and actually smiling, Ken
experienced a sensation of unutterable thankfulness. A terrible burden
slipped from his shoulders. For a moment he felt a dimming of his eyes
and a lump in his throat.

"How about you, Ken, old man?" inquired Hal, with a hint of his usual
spirit.

"Wal, youngster, I reckon fer a man who's been through some right pert
happenin's, I'm in tol'able shape," drawled Ken.

"I'll bet two dollars you've been up against it," declared Hal,
solemnly.

Then, as they sat to an appetizing breakfast, Ken gave them a brief
account of the incidents of the two days and two nights when they were
too ill to know anything.

It was a question whether George's voluble eulogy of Ken's feat or Hal's
silent, bright-eyed pride in his brother was the greater compliment.

Finally Hal said: "Won't that tickle Jim Williams when we tell him how
you split up the Indians' canoe and spilled them into the river?"

Then Ken conceived the idea of climbing into the giant ceiba that stood
high on the edge of the bluff. It was hard work, but he accomplished it,
and from a fork in the top-most branches he looked out. That was a warm,
rich, wonderful scene. Ken felt that he would never forget it. His
interest now, however, was not so much in its beauty and wildness. His
keen eye followed the river as it wound away into the jungle, and when
he could no longer see the bright ribbon of water he followed its course
by the line of magnificent trees. It was possible to trace the
meandering course of the river clear to the rise of the mountains, dim
and blue in the distance. And from here Ken made more observations and
notes.

As he went over in his mind the map and notes and report he had prepared
he felt that he had made good. He had explored and mapped more than a
hundred miles of wild jungle river. He felt confident that he had earned
the trip to England and the German forests. He might win a hunting trip
on the vast uplands of British East Africa. But he felt also that the
reward of his uncle's and his father's pride would be more to him. That
was a great moment for Ken Ward. And there was yet much more that he
could do to make this exploring trip a success.

When he joined the others he found that Pepe had learned that the
village of Panuco was distant a day or a night by canoe. How many miles
or kilometers Pepe could not learn. Ken decided it would be best to go
on at once. It was not easy to leave that pleasant place, with its music
of parrots and other birds, and the tiger-cats that played like kittens,
and the deer that ate from the hand. The women would accept no pay, so
Ken made them presents.

Once more embarked, Ken found his mood reverting to that of the last
forty-eight hours. He could not keep cheerful. The river was dirty and
the smell sickening. The sun was like the open door of a furnace. And
Ken soon discovered he was tired, utterly tired.

That day was a repetition of the one before, hotter, wearier, and the
stretches of river were longer, and the natives met in canoes were
stolidly ignorant of distance. The mourning of turtle-doves almost drove
Ken wild. There were miles and miles of willows, and every tree was full
of melancholy doves. At dusk the boys halted on a sand-bar, too tired to
cook a dinner, and sprawled in the warm sand to sleep like logs.

In the morning they brightened up a little, for surely just around the
bend they would come to Panuco. Pepe rowed faithfully on, and bend after
bend lured Ken with deceit. He was filled with weariness and disgust, so
tired he could hardly lift his hand, so sleepy he could scarcely keep
his eyes open. He hated the wide, glassy stretches of river and the
muddy banks and dusty cattle.

At noon they came unexpectedly upon a cluster of thatched huts, to find
that they made up the village of Panuco. Ken was sick, for he had
expected a little town where they could get some drinking-water and hire
a launch to speed them down to Tampico. This appeared little more than
the other places he had passed, and he climbed up the bank wearily,
thinking of the long fifty miles still to go.

But Panuco was bigger and better than it looked from the river. The boys
found a clean, comfortable inn, where they dined well, and learned to
their joy that a coach left in an hour for Tamos to meet the
five-o'clock train to Tampico.

They hired a mozo to row the boat to Tampico and, carrying the lighter
things, boarded the coach, and, behind six mules, were soon bowling over
a good level road.

It was here that the spirit of Ken's mood again changed, and somehow
seemed subtly conveyed to the others. The gloom faded away as Ken had
seen the mist-clouds dissolve in the morning sunlight. It was the end of
another wild trip. Hal was ill, but a rest and proper care would soon
bring him around. Ken had some trophies and pictures, but he also had
memories. And he believed he had acquired an accurate knowledge of the
jungle and its wild nature, and he had mapped the river from Micas Falls
to Panuco.

"Well, it certainly DID COME to us, didn't it?" asked George, naively,
for the hundredth time. "Didn't I tell you? By gosh, I can't remember
what did come off. But we had a dandy time."

"Great!" replied Ken. "I had more than I wanted. I'll never spring
another stunt like this one!"

Hal gazed smilingly at his brother.

"Bah! Ken Ward, bring on your next old trip!"

Which proved decidedly that Hal was getting better and that he alone
understood his brother.

Pepe listened and rubbed his big hands, and there was a light in his
dark eyes.

Ken laughed. It was good to feel happy just then; it was enough to feel
safe and glad in the present, with responsibility removed, without a
thought of the future.

Yet, when some miles across country he saw the little town of Tamos
shining red-roofed against the sky, he came into his own again. The old
calling, haunting love of wild places and wild nature returned, and with
dreamy eyes he looked out. He saw the same beauty and life and wildness.
Beyond the glimmering lagoons stretched the dim, dark jungle. A flock of
flamingoes showed pink across the water. Ducks dotted the weedy marshes.
And low down on the rosy horizon a long curved line of wild geese sailed
into the sunset.

When the boys arrived at Tampico and George had secured comfortable
lodgings for them, the first thing Ken did was to put Hal to bed. It
required main strength to do this. Ken was not taking any chances with
tropical fever, and he sent for a doctor.

It was not clear whether the faces Hal made were at the little dried-up
doctor or at the medicine he administered. However, it was very clear
that Hal made fun of him and grew bolder the more he believed the man
could not understand English.

Ken liked the silent, kindly physician, and remonstrated with Hal, and
often, just to keep Hal's mind occupied, he would talk of the university
and baseball, topics that were absorbing to the boy.

And one day, as the doctor was leaving, he turned to Ken with a twinkle
in his eyes and said in perfect English: "I won't need to come any
more."

Hal's jaw began to drop.

"Your brother is all right," went on the doctor. "But he's a fresh kid,
and he'll never make the Wayne Varsity--or a good explorer, either--till
he gets over that freshness. I'm a Wayne man myself. Class of '82. Good
day, boys."

Ken Ward was astounded. "By George! What do you think of that? He's a
Wayne med. I'll have to look him up. And, Hal, he was just right about
you."

Hal looked extremely crestfallen and remorseful.

"I'm always getting jars."

It took a whole day for him to recover his usual spirits.

Ken had promptly sent the specimens and his notes to his uncle, and as
the days passed the boys began to look anxiously for some news. In ten
days Hal was as well as ever, and then the boys had such sport with the
tarpon and big sharks and alligator-gars that they almost forgot about
the rewards they had striven so hard for and hoped to win. But finally,
when the mail arrived from home, they were at once happy and fearful.
George was with them that evening, and shared their excitement and
suspense. Hal's letters were from his mother and his sister, and they
were read first. Judge Ward's letter to Ken was fatherly and solicitous,
but brief. He gave the boys six more weeks, cautioned them to be
sensible and to profit by their opportunity, and he inclosed a
bank-draft. Not a word about rewards!

Ken's fingers trembled a little as he tore open the uncle's letter. He
read it aloud:


Dear Ken,--Congratulations! You've done well. You win the trip to
Africa. Hal's work also was good--several specimens accepted by the
Smithsonian. I'll back you for the Yucatan trip. Will send letters to
the American consul at Progreso, and arrange for you to meet the
Austrian archaeologist Maler, who I hope will take you in hand.

I want you to make a study of some of the ruins of Yucatan, which I
believe are as wonderful as any in Egypt. I advise you to make this trip
short and to the point, for there are indications of coming revolution
throughout Mexico.

With best wishes,

Uncle G.


The old varsity cheer rang out from Ken, and Hal began a war-dance. Then
both boys pounced upon George, and for a few moments made life miserable
for him.

"And I can't go with you!" he exclaimed, sorrowfully.

Both Ken and Hal shared his disappointment. But presently George
brightened up. The smile came back which he always wore when prophesying
the uncertain adventures of the future.

"Well, anyway, I'll be safe home. And you fellows! You'll be getting
yours when you're lost in the wilderness of Yucatan!"



THE END




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