THE BLACK PHANTOM
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BY LEO E. MILLER
The Black Phantom The Hidden People In the Tiger's Lair
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
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THE BLACK PHANTOM
LEO E. MILLER
Charles Scribner's Sons New York 1922
Copyright, 1922, By Charles Scribner's Sons Copyright, 1922, By The Open Road
Printed in the United States of America
TO MY SON SPENCER KELSEY MILLER
The dried or mounted skins of animals from out-of-the-way places are familiar to every one who has visited museums and other similar institutions. But, no matter how cleverly arranged, they suggest comparatively little of the creatures' real appearance in their native environment.
The comedies, the tragedies, and the life stories of the untrammelled wild creatures are infinitely more fascinating than a survey of their lifeless and often faded forms, only too frequently collected by the hundreds with little other thought than that of classification or the possession first of rare or undescribed species.
It was with the view of bringing to light the home life of some of the jungle's inhabitants that "The Black Phantom" was written.
Leo E. Miller. Floral Park, Stratford, Conn. August 1, 1922.
CONTENTS PAGE When the Deluge Came 1 Oomah, the Story-teller 30 The Terror of Claws and Fangs 44 As It Was in the Beginning 82 The Struggle for Existence 114 The Cruelty of Tumwah 150 The White Feather 189
Here where he had rested before, he would sleep again Frontispiece
FACING PAGE Suma waited with bated breath and blazing eyes 96
There was the twang of the bow and the deadly missile whined through the air 208
"Tumwah, send the rain-clouds here" 222
THE BLACK PHANTOM
WHEN THE DELUGE CAME
With the coming of night, Siluk, the Storm-God, laid a heavy hand upon the cowering jungle. Now, the coming of night in the Upper Amazon is in itself an awe-inspiring event; but coupled with the furious onslaught of Siluk, the Storm-God, it is terrible.
In the tropics there is not the lengthy twilight of a temperate clime; nor the fearsome splendor of the Aurora Borealis with its million streamers of ghastly light shooting into the heavens in a fan-shaped flare of quivering color to lend mystery and enchantment to the long months of the frigid, scintillating polar night.
One moment, the sun like a brassy ball of fire hangs low upon the threatening horizon; the next, it has dropped into the belt of grayish mist that marks the earth's end and darkness has spread its silent, ominous mantle over the forest. Almost, as a room is plunged into blackness upon the snuffing out of a candle at midnight, so the jungle is flooded with gloom at the snap of the solar switch.
Uru, the great howling monkey, eyed with suspicion the bank of angry clouds descending from the slopes of the dark mountain masses to the west. Then he turned to his party, five in number, and from his throat there emanated a few gruff barks followed by a long-drawn, rumbling roar. The females hugged close the branches, gave one furtive look at the threatening sky, and joined their voices in the deafening chorus that shook the wide-spreading canopy of the tall ceiba tree and penetrated into the innermost recesses of the jungle a distance measured in miles. Then the troop clumsily made its way over the swaying branches and sought a friendly shelter in the crown of a chonta palm.
The wild things of the forest heard the warning and understood its meaning. From the snug security of the cavernous greenheart, the little, woolly douroucoulis or night monkeys roused themselves from their daylight slumbers, peered out into the fading light with round, blinking eyes, and then curled up again for another nap.
Sama, the tapir, one massive forefoot raised in midair, stopped soothing with his tongue the ugly gash inflicted by Ueshe, leader of the peccary herd when he had incautiously stumbled into its midst, and listened. His mind had been made up that to-night he should feast on the luscious grass growing so abundantly in the bed of the broad, nearly dry river. But the swelling chorus from the treetops caused Sama hastily to reach another decision. He would remain where he was, in the dense brake of chuchilla canes and satisfy his hunger on their coarser leaves. The river bed was too exposed to danger. In the all but impenetrable cane thicket lay at least a measure of safety.
Even Picici, the bushmaster, largest and deadliest of all the poisonous snakes heard—and heeded. Not one muscle in all his nine feet of tightly coiled, scale-covered body quivered. Ordinarily, Picici feared not one living thing. In the jungle he was supposed to reign supreme, save only for Muzurama, the black snake who could successfully engage him in combat if he chose; but this enemy was so rare as to be almost negligible. The other animals instinctively knew and feared his lightning thrust and death-dealing fangs. But Siluk, the Storm-God was different—an intangible, elusive something he did not understand, could not subdue. And the terror that Siluk brought was even worse, for it stalked boldly in the night and slew without warning or mercy. And so the mighty serpent was contented merely to remain in the damp, evil-smelling burrow under the decaying vegetation to wait and to watch.
About the only creatures to remain unaffected by the approach of the storm were the birds in the treetops; to them the thing it heralded meant a superabundance of food and a denser, more protective growth of vegetation. And the stupid Agoutis, overgrown guinea-pigs they were, who could never profit by past experiences anyway, either squatted comfortably in their burrows or stole out noiselessly to nibble the tender shoots, as suited their fancy.
The hush that fell upon the jungle was appalling. It was the great, breathless silence of fear and apprehension. But the suspense was of short duration.
A sighing breeze sifted its way through the whimpering leaves; again the deadly calm; then a dull roar, distant at first, but gaining in volume with each passing heartbeat. With a crash that rent the tallest ceiba from the topmost branches to the buttressed roots, Siluk arrived. The trees bent and groaned before the furious onslaught of the wind that enfiladed their ranks and tore off branches a foot through and hurled them to the ground; a deluge of water beat down upon them from above; and in the glare of the brilliant, blue-green lightning flashes, the startled eyes of trembling wild things saw the weaker and more venerable monarchs of the forest succumb to the unequal struggle and fall with a roar that made itself heard above the drumfire peals of thunder.
But, terrible as the Storm-God was in all the majesty of his unleashed fury, it was not he alone that the trembling denizens of the wilderness feared. Rather, it was the thing he portended, the message he brought. For, with this coming of Siluk, began the dismal season of seemingly unending rains when the waters of the lowlands reached their flood stage and drove into the higher, forested country that crafty, merciless terror from which few were safe and which was held in awe and dreaded by even the strongest among them.
Suma, the Jaguar, basking in the glaring sunlight, awoke with a start, stretched her massive forelegs, yawned, then snapped halfheartedly at the annoying insects that buzzed about her ears and stung her lips; and lowered her head for another nap. But, sleep came slowly and then it was for short periods of time only. Something stirred within her and warned her of a coming danger—not from the other inhabitants of the wilderness for among them there was none to dispute her sovereignty; rather, she looked upon the wild folk as creatures that had been provided to satisfy her hunger, gratify her whims when in a playful mood, or upon which to vent her rage. Besides, the flat-topped rock she had chosen for her daily resting place was well out from the banks where unknown peril might lurk and high enough above the sluggish, yellow river to discourage the designing crocodiles that swarmed below. In the open, and in a fair fight these repulsive reptiles were easy victims of her power and cunning; but, taken unawares, she would find them formidable adversaries. For this reason she drank only of the shallowest pools, and refrained from swimming, reaching her abiding place over a series of conveniently-placed boulders that served as stepping stones.
All through the torrid day the disquieting impulse warned her to be up and on her way—just as the birds feel the urge of an irresistible voice to desert the land of their birth and to seek a foreign clime as the change of the season draws near, and, heeding it, run the gauntlet of long migrations through uncharted space.
But, Suma was loath to give up the life of ease and plenty on the sandbanks for the sterner existence in the forested country. Not until she was driven from them would she undertake the long, fatiguing journey to the more elevated regions.
The river was at its lowest stage. Vast islands and low, flat bars dotted its winding course. The latter extended far as the eye could see on both sides of the now narrow channel. Young turtles in legion were emerging from the hot, sun-baked sand and making for the water the instant they breathed the outer air as if their very lives depended on it, and they did—for during the hours of daylight there were herons, an ever-present host of hawks, and other predaceous birds waiting for the eggs to hatch and eager to feast on the defenseless horde the instant the little creatures pushed their heads through the crumbling sand and while they scrambled frantically toward the water and safety. At night the four-footed animals from miles around gathered on the bars to growl and to snarl at one another and to feast on the manna so bountifully spread by heaven for the delectation of all. Fights were almost unknown for full stomachs were not conducive to quarrelsomeness. Nor must it be thought that Nature was cruel to the turtles only to be generous to the other creatures. This very emergency had been amply provided for by the fact that each adult turtle during her annual visit to land deposited as many as one hundred eggs in the hole she carefully scooped in the sand, and had all her offspring survived the rivers would soon be overstocked, constituting a real menace to the perpetuation of the race. So long as the others took their toll, that generation was safe.
Crocodiles too were bursting through their tough, leathery egg-shells, but in smaller numbers. They were vicious little creatures right from the start, snapping quickly and savagely at everything that interfered with their rapid march to the muddy stream. But they too had their enemies and numbers did not live to reach the water's edge, in spite of the fact that the mother caiman had the unpleasant habit of keeping a watchful eye on her nest and escorting her brood to safety if she chanced to be present when it came into the world. If an overzealous jabirou stork or a gluttonous opossum ventured near she charged with a hoarse bellow that put the intruder to flight; and while she was thus engaged, some other keen-visaged marauder would be sure to take advantage of the opening created by her absence to satisfy his rapacious cravings.
But the turtles and the crocodiles were not the only delicacies the sandbars provided. There were iguanas two yards long, and on the knolls where the wind had blown the sand into heaps fat young skimmers and terns were testing their wings for the new life that lay before them in the air.
The shallow inlets were full of fish. They came out of the deeper water at night to spawn, and could be dragged ashore with little effort.
From such a well-stocked hunting ground Suma was not eager to depart. Day after day the journey was postponed, and the procrastination, as usual, brought evil consequences.
It was night, but a full moon, and the myriads of stars, beaming and twinkling in the glorious tropical sky, shed a mellow light on the sandbar where the last of the turtles were escaping from their prison shells. Suma feasted leisurely, then drank from the lazy stream, and sat straight upright like a huge cat and began unconcernedly to tidy up by licking her huge paws with her pink tongue and then applying them to her face.
A dull roar pierced the silence with a suddenness that was ominous. The Jaguar sprang to her feet and uneasily tested the air, first in one direction, then another. There was not a stir of wind. The sky was cloudless—the growing rumble was not thunder.
Onward came the mysterious sound with a terrifying swiftness, and Suma knew it must be the river. The abrupt bank was fully half a mile distant but toward it the startled creature bounded in gigantic leaps that took her over the sand with the speed of the wind. The goal had all but been attained when the cataclysm struck. A wall of water, four feet high and crested with foam came rushing down the river bed with incredible swiftness, engulfing everything within its reach. The sandbar with its varied population was submerged in a flash and as the air imprisoned in the wide cracks and crevices of the sun-baked surface rushed up toward freedom, the water seethed and boiled like the contents of a gigantic cauldron.
Completely overwhelmed by the first wave, Suma struggled frantically to regain her foothold and finding this impossible followed the path of least resistance and struck out boldly with the current until the water drained from her eyes and she could discern the bank which had been her objective. By varying her course slightly toward that side nearest the land she made fair progress and soon reached a point where the water was shallow and wearily dragged herself ashore. Pausing only long enough to shake the glistening drops from her shivering body she began the long journey westward for at last Suma was forced, reluctantly, to admit the truth. Days before, she had sensed the coming of the melancholy weeks of endless downpours with the attendant saturated earth; but the warning had gone unheeded. Now, when it was all but too late it served as a stimulus to redoubled effort; for the rains had started in the foothills and would soon extend their sway to the lower country.
Daylight found the journey well under way, with vast stretches of swamp and forest and plain to be traversed. Before her lay the wild pantenales, vast wastes of land and water. The inhabitants of these dismal places too felt the coming of the change for, between the sky, now overcast and angry for the first time in days, and the earth, seemingly waiting in sullen acquiescence to the dictates of a higher power, flecks of black soared in stately circles, or whirled in erratic courses, that were either manifestations of abject surrender to the inevitable, or else a show of frenzied despair, one could not tell which. The soaring flecks of black were flocks of graceful ibises sailing hour after hour on tireless wings and indistinguishable from vultures save for the long, outstretched necks and legs; for, outlined against the grayish heavens all the winged creatures appeared dark, no matter what their color. The whirling swarms were hordes of cormorants, herons, terns and skimmers defying every known law of gravity in their mad evolutions.
The chorus of screams and squawks from overhead could be heard for miles and chief among the offenders in this respect were the terns whose shrill voices and incessant clatter were like the cries of woe of demented souls. Below, the occasional bellow of a crocodile hidden in the reedy bed of a marsh or the high-pitched wail of the great brown wolf added its note to the clamor of the multitude.
Suma spent the nights only in travel. When the approach of day was heralded by the crimson glare in the eastern sky she sought shelter in one of the dark forest islands so liberally sprinkled over the pantenal country. To the Jaguar these were places of delight, free from disturbance and well suited for repose. To man, these same places would have been an inferno.
The tall trees, mostly of a wood known as quebracho, eagerly sought in other regions on account of its qualities of yielding tannin, rich dyes and compounds of medicinal worth, grew in dense clumps, the straight trunks packed close together and the spreading, leafy branches almost completely shutting out the daylight. More often than not reeking pools of black water formed the floor of these desolate places. Mosquitoes in clouds rose from the stagnant mire; their buzzing wings made an ever-present music for, the insects being of various kinds and sizes, the note contributed by each species was of a different pitch. Near the ground the din was maddening, and the bites of the ravenous creatures were sufficient to cause death.
The wily Jaguar avoided the intolerable annoyance and danger by seeking a partly-fallen, leaning tree-trunk, or a thick branch, fifteen or twenty feet above the ground. This was well above the zone of perpetual torment, for the obnoxious insects formed a stratum that hugged the earth. Among the branches the squirrels frolicked, whisking their plume-like tails and keeping at a respectable distance from every other animal that was not of their own family. Some of them were of extraordinary size, with red backs and white under parts; others belonged to the extreme lower end of the scale and were scarcely larger than good-sized mice; but they all seemed a good-natured, fun-loving lot that enjoyed life to the fullest extent.
The Cebus monkeys were of a very different nature. They always wore tragic expressions on their faces and their lives were full of suffering and woe for they had enemies without numbers. If they showed themselves on the sunlit dome of the treetops, an eagle was always ready to pounce down upon them and carry away one of their number, screaming piteously, in its talons. When they descended to drink caimans were lurking near at hand to drag them into the dark depths below. Snakes of the constrictor family were not wanting among the branches; despite their huge size they had a habit of lying patiently in wait where the cover was thickest, or of appearing in the most unexpected places and after each of their swift lunges the monkey population was reduced by one. Then too, there was Suma, never averse to striking with murderous intent at anything that came within reach. The damp chill of the nights penetrated the bodies of the closely huddled groups, and caused them to shiver; and during the hottest hours of the day they trembled with the ague. So their existence, taken as a whole was a most unfortunate and melancholy one.
There were also other denizens of the dismal places. At noon the marsh deer with wide-spreading antlers sought them out as the only available protection from the blistering sunlight. But they were wary creatures, ever on the alert, sensing danger and fleeing from it before their position was really imperilled. The tapirs too were shy but not so apprehensive of their welfare, for they were powerful animals and well versed in jungle strategy. Once Suma had essayed to try her prowess on one of the big ungulates by springing from a lower branch and burying her claws and fangs in its shoulder. But the hide was so tough, particularly along the ridge that ran down from the neck that she gained little more than a secure hold and this the tapir broke by promptly bolting through the densest brush where the stout overhanging branches brushed the Jaguar off as if she had been a fly and left her lying bruised and stunned on the soggy ground. Herds of peccaries roamed the forest islands at will. Their safety lay principally in numbers, but more of them anon.
Keeping just ahead of the encroaching water that daily added broad miles to the inundated areas, Suma was finally driven to the heavy forest that spread its mantle over the rough, low ridges forming the Andean foothills. And the long journey finally over the great cat felt a thrill of delight at again seeing the old, familiar haunts in the rain-drenched thickets.
With a caution akin to awe she approached the windfall where a cyclone years before had levelled a wide swath through the heavy growth. Giant trunks and branches, resisting decay, littered the floor of the lane and formed a barrier impenetrable to those inhabitants of the jungle confined to a life on the ground. Second growth sprouts had pushed their way through the tangled, twisted debris and waved their plumed heads above the mass of wreckage. Creepers and trumpet vines covered it with a green cloak so that an endless mound of verdure dotted with clusters of scarlet flowers greeted the eye in two directions. Gorgeous humming birds, aflame with ruby and emerald light, flitted from one patch of color to another, sipping the nectar from deep-throated corollas and picking out the ants and other minute insects that too had been attracted by the delicacies stored in the brilliant blossoms.
Suma knew the country well. Thrice before had she taken up her abode there while the rains were falling. And now, springing nimbly from one prostrate tree-trunk to another, threading her way through verdure-covered tunnels, and pushing aside the sprouts that impeded her progress she made her way to the old lair—a great cavity in the heart of an uprooted cottonwood.
At the entrance she stopped short and sniffed the air enquiringly. Her nose told her that the spiny rats had been there, probably that very night, but they were beneath her serious attention and now that she had arrived they would lose no time in seeking other quarters; so she dismissed them from her mind without another thought. A stronger and more disagreeable odor proclaimed the presence of an opossum; in fact, its beady eyes could be seen dully glowing in the farthermost corner of the cavity. How dared the impudent creature appropriate for its own use and defile the place that Suma held sacred? Ordinarily she would pass it in contempt, but such impertinence must not remain unpunished. With a snarl of rage she dashed through the entrance and struck the wretched creature a terrible blow with one claw-armed paw that tore it into shreds and turning, with a second quick thrust tossed it out where it fell among the trumpet-vines, a limp and lifeless mass.
After a thorough inspection of her old quarters the Jaguar was apparently satisfied that they would serve their purpose another season, and set about renovating them. This consisted of carefully digging up and turning over the decayed bark and leaves that had sifted in through the opening. Nor was this labor without its reward, for numbers of fat grubs and the helpless larvae of rhinoceros beetles were unearthed, providing dainty morsels for the big cat. This accomplished, Suma inquisitively sniffed at each nook and crevice, then turning around a number of times in search of the most comfortable spot, settled down for a long nap—her nostrils toward the entrance beyond which the rain roared and the thunder crashed. The air was fragrant with the smell of growing things for the rainy season was not yet far enough advanced to induce decomposition of the wilted and dead vegetation; and Suma, glad to be back in her home again, speedily sank into a peaceful and refreshing sleep.
From the cautious hunter moving shadow-like over the dreary expanse of the pantenales or stealing like a spirit through the forest islands and killing for food only, Suma suddenly changed to a bloodthirsty terror that slew whatever came within her reach. Back and forth she patrolled along the edges of the windfall. No creature was too small, none too large to merit the fury of her onslaught.
Numbers of the more careless or stupid animals, panic-stricken at last when it was too late, fell ready victims. Instead of seeking safety at the first menacing roar they foolishly succumbed to their curiosity or stopped only long enough to listen and to wonder, then went about their own affairs as was their custom. This seldom failed to bring dire consequences, for when the sudden rush came it confused them and they dashed blindly into the very jaws of their destroyer. Such particularly was the fate of the agoutis, which had either forgotten the experience of past seasons or had failed to inherit the cunning of the other wild folk. When the Jaguar approached, noisily announcing her coming with voice and footfall, they sat stock still and waited. Only their noses twitched and their large, black eyes stared dumbly in the direction from whence the sounds came. They never had long to wait. With a growl, Suma pounced upon them, mauled them into bits and left them as a warning the meaning of which could not be misunderstood.
The lot of the armadillos was not vastly different. Digging for grubs in the wet mould, they were oblivious to their surroundings for with their heads hidden from view they felt a fanciful security from outward aggression. The rings of bony armor that covered their bodies was strong enough, it is true, to protect them from the talons of the harpy eagle and claws of the tiger cats; but when Suma dealt her crushing blow it proved at once the fallacy of taking too many things for granted. So the shattered casques and broken bones of many a luckless armadillo were strewn along the way, mute evidences of Suma's insatiable savagery.
In contrast to the actions of the agoutis and armadillos was the behavior of the ocelots. At the first intimation of danger they disappeared to their hiding places or climbed the nearest tree from the branches of which they watched with the eyes of hatred as their larger relative passed below. However, in the event that they were trapped in the middle of a stalk they spat and hissed and offered the strongest resistance of which they were capable, or at least so it seemed. In reality they were merely bluffing, knowing all the while, with sinking hearts, that their position was hopeless, and that their strategy had no effect whatever on the actions of their persecutor.
The more knowing animals heeded the warning so plainly written in the mutilated bodies of their brethren; in the snarls of rage and in the screams of terror of the doomed victims; and in the roars of triumph that followed each notable kill. To them, all these signs were superfluous, for had they not witnessed the coming of Siluk, the Storm-God, and had they not known of the thing that portended? But such is the nature of the wild things that they are loath to change the established order of their lives until forced to do so. So, not until death walked boldly in their midst, and struck—no one could tell when and where—did they profit by their superior intelligence. Then the more timid ones among their number moved to safe quarters far from the windfall, while the others redoubled their vigilance and dared not venture many paces from the protection of their burrows and shelters.
So far, the inhabitants of the treetops had not been molested. Largest among them were the howling monkeys. Secretly, they feared Suma and hated her with all the vehemence of their intractable natures. In secret also, they followed her movements whenever possible, dogging her steps and gazing with furtive eyes upon her acts of violence. But they were careful to keep to the higher branches and to view the jungle tragedies from the safety of their lofty perches. So long as the Jaguar hunted openly and made no efforts to conceal her movements, they had nothing to fear. It was later, when the great cat called into play all the resources and artifices at her command that their hour would strike. But like the other foolish wild folk, they looked upon that time as something belonging to the indistinct future and not until the lesson should be brought home to them, swiftly and terribly, would they profit by it.
In her turn, Suma hated the monkey tribe. She had frequent glimpses of the dark forms slinking through the branches high above her head, but gave no indication of the fact. At the present time she could not hope successfully to wage war upon them in their arboreal fastness. But it would not always be so. Other days were coming and then the monkey band would be given their lesson and punished for their presumption.
The bird flocks swept through the forest in quest of their livelihood with as much clamor as ever. To them Suma meant nothing; the majority of them had never seen her—did not even know that such a creature existed. The jays, quarrelsome and noisy as are their relatives of the temperate zone, occasionally saw the spotted hunter as she passed where the undergrowth was more open, and sent up a loud chatter that apprised all the other wild things of her whereabouts. And while realizing her impotence to deal with them, Suma could never quite check the growl that swelled in her throat nor stay the lips that drew back until the gleaming, white fangs were exposed to view. Then, with a sheepish look as if heartily ashamed of having noticed the pests at all, she hastened to thicker cover and quickly lost herself to her tormentors.
And so the days, and the nights too, passed swiftly, each with its complement of thunder and of rain, and of intimidation and destruction; but at last Suma was satisfied. The region had been cleared of everything that might disturb the tranquillity of the weeks to come. That had been her first care, her first duty prompted by an instinct that made her merciless in its execution. Her abode was safe from disturbance. She could come and go as she chose, serene in the knowledge that not a living thing remained in the vicinity to trouble her, or, if any remained they were cowed to the point where they dared not make their presence known. Then she retired to the cavity in the great cottonwood and for three days and three nights the jungle saw her not.
The deluge thundered and beat upon the drooping vegetation with a sound so monotonous that Suma grew accustomed to it and did not notice its existence. But the chamber in the giant tree trunk remained dry and comfortable, a little world apart from its mournful surroundings. And scarcely had she entered upon her voluntary retirement when a swarm of craneflies took up its station at the entrance. These latter were slender, almost wasplike insects with lacy wings and long, thread-like legs, that whirled and danced with the mad joyousness of life, the mass of swirling creatures seemingly spinning a net of sheerest gossamer that curtained the interior from the prying eyes of the wrens and ant birds hopping inquisitively through the crevices of the windfall.
OOMAH, THE STORY-TELLER
The approach of Siluk, the Storm-God, brought terror not only to the animals of the boundless wilderness. Besides the creatures that lived in the treetops, in the air, on the floor of the forest and under the rubbish that littered the ground were other living beings, no less wild, no less savage than the ones that shared their jungle homes.
They were the Indians, living in scattered tribes, some numerous, others so few in numbers that they verged on extinction. They roamed the vast hinterland in bands, subsisting on the bounty of the land when food was plentiful, suffering hunger in less propitious seasons, and sleeping on the ground where night overtook them.
The dry season was their time of harvest, of care-free existence and of abundance. No sooner had the heavens ceased to drench the long-enduring earth with its tears than they followed the receding floods to the lower regions where the forest ended.
Then came long days of brilliant sunshine, of balmy breezes, and of feasting beside the great rivers that were the very arteries of life of the great Amazon country.
Well-filled stomachs were conducive to friendlier dispositions. Old enmities were forgotten or at least held in abeyance. Each tribe was too busily engaged in the enjoyment of life to spend precious days in warfare on its neighbors with all the attendant hardships and suffering.
It was only after the skies had been leaden for days at a time; when rain in torrents beat unceasingly upon the hastily erected shelters and found its way in rivulets through the palm-leaf roofs so that the earthen floors were converted into basins of mud; when game retreated to unknown or inaccessible places so that the procuring of food became an increasingly difficult problem; it was then, after the weeks of brooding and confinement that nerves snapped and the picture of war formed itself as a saving diversion before the blood-shot eyes of the savages.
At this stage no one was safe. The war party might at any moment find itself ambushed by the very ones it hoped to surprise. The snap of a twig; the dropping of a fruit from some tall tree; each sudden sound was interpreted as the twang of a hostile bow. Overwrought nerves peopled the jungle with spectral enemies; they found relief in combat and destruction.
And, above all the scenes of desolation, above the turmoil and the strife, the grim storm god ruled supreme, heartlessly sending new deluges and crashing bolts in answer to the prayers for deliverance.
The Cantanas had ventured farther down the river than was their wont. The season had been a remarkable one. Never had there been such abundance along the stream that for many years had served as their annual camping-ground. They revelled in the luxury of a care-free existence. Fish teemed in the water; turtles came in hordes to visit the sandbank; and birds in countless numbers filled the air with twinkling wings and harsh screams. They had only to take, to eat, and to make merry for it was not their nature to look too seriously upon the morrow.
And then, like a fateful omen of troubled times on the horizon came the first sign, the first warning of the impending change.
The tribe was small, reduced in numbers by the periodical inroads made upon it by some of its neighbors. Also, led by an aged man who relied more on charms and incantations than upon valor, it stood in a fair way of utter extermination.
Among the men was a youth of promise, Oomah by name. He was a general favorite, praised by the men for his deeds of courage and daring, admired by the women and beloved by the children.
Oomah was only seventeen. Still, at that early age he stood half a head above any other member of the tribe and was built in proportion. It had been hinted on more than one occasion that he was to be their next leader. But, if he knew of it, he gave not the slightest evidence of the fact. He went about his affairs as stolidly as ever, indifferent to all but the urge of the water, the lure of the forest and those other things that rounded out the well-filled days of the annual period of recreation.
And now the time had arrived when that period must soon come to a close. But the sun was shining still, the wind blew and the birds shrieked in their revels overhead.
The men were dozing in their hammocks; the women had built fires over which to roast the turtle meat for the evening meal. And the children played in the sand.
A shout went up suddenly from one of the group.
"Here comes Oomah now."
"Yes! We will run to meet Oomah," another said. "See, he brings birds from the forest."
They raced toward the oncoming figure still a few hundred yards away on the edge of the sandbank. Each wanted to be the first to reach his side and to hear from his lips the story of the afternoon's hunt.
"Oh, look," the leader said in wide-eyed wonder when they all came to a stop in front of the mighty hunter. "A gura and a chapla. Tell us, Oomah, how did you get them?"
"In the forest, high up in the trees," the youth replied with a smile. "Now look at the birds and tell me what you see."
A chorus of answers came instantly, for close observation of all things is part of the life training of the wild people.
"One has a short tail," said one.
"The big one has a long tail," said another.
"The feathers on its head are all curled and twisted," added a third. "And they both have long necks and long legs."
"Listen," said Oomah, "and I will tell you why these things are true."
He sat down in the sand and crossed his legs and the group of eager urchins dropped down in a semi-circle before him.
"In the very beginning of things, many, many changes of the season ago, the gura and the chapla were just alike," Oomah said impressively, holding up one hand for further emphasis. "They were married one day just as the rains were about to stop for good and the floods were going back into the rivers where they belonged. But, they were not happy. Before long they quarrelled. The gura," holding up the trumpeter, which was like a turkey without a tail, for such it was, "was forever cackling and scolding and the chapla" pointing to the curassow, which resembled a turkey with a long tail, "resented this and answered in loud squawks. Then they began to fight. The chapla pushed the gura into the fire over which she was cooking and burned off her tail. In rage, the gura pushed her husband into the fire, scorching the feathers on his head so that they curled up. Now, Wallaha, god of the forest saw the fight and it made him angry. 'For shame,' he said, 'fighting like that when you should be peaceful and happy. I will punish you. You will bear the marks of your disgrace with you forever.' And that is why the gura has a short tail and the feathers on the head of the chapla are singed even to this day."
A chorus of "Oh's" escaped the cluster of eager listeners. "Tell us another story."
"What do you want me to tell about?" Oomah asked indulgently.
"Tell us about the rivers."
The youth was silent for a moment, as if lost in thought. Then he began.
"The little streams that come from the mountains so far away and rush through the forest are always talking, always babbling. They are never silent. Have you not noticed that?"
"Yes, and they are always in a hurry," came the prompt reply. "What are they saying?"
"They are praying,'Father of Waters,' they are pleading, 'wait for us and take us into your arms and carry us away with you to the great sea where the land ends. We are small and cannot travel the distance alone; the hungry ground would drink us up or the wind would dry us up. But in your embrace we will safely reach our home.'"
"Tell us, Oomah," one of the boys said in an awestruck tone, "are there still greater rivers than the Father of Waters we know?"
"The Father of Waters is but as a drop compared to the great sea into which it empties," Oomah said wistfully. "It is so large that there is no other side. The fish in it are bigger than the tallest tree and when the wind blows the waves are high as mountains."
"Oh, did you see these things Oomah," the eager listeners asked.
"No," came the reply, regretfully.
"Then, who did see them? Who told you of them?"
"Long, long ago the Cantanas were a powerful people. They built the largest canoes and travelled to the river's end. They saw them. The story of their wandering came to me from my mother."
"When we are men," one of the boys said, "we will make a great canoe. Then you will take us to see the water that is so broad it has no other side."
"No," Oomah said sadly. "It is impossible, for since that day white men have come in countless numbers and settled along the borders of the Father of Waters. Little by little they are pushing up the river. Some day they will be even here."
"Not so long as there is a Cantana alive," the oldest of the youths replied. "We will fight them and drive them back."
"I am glad to hear you say that and I would that I could be the leader against them. But, that too is not possible," regretfully. "The white men are numerous as the stars in the heavens. They fight with sticks that roar like thunder and throw the lightning that kills instantly. Their boats vomit fire and smoke and are longer than from here to the water's edge."
"What terrible savages they must be," one of the boys said breathlessly.
"Some day," Oomah continued, a strange light brightening his face, "I will take you down the river to the border of the region where the white men live. We will travel at night and hide by day. From our places of concealment we will watch them but they shall not see us."
"What would Choflo say?" one of the more timid ones asked.
"We will not ask Choflo," another promptly replied. "He says too many things and always makes us do the things we hate to do."
"You forget," Oomah advised them, "that Choflo is leader of the tribe. So long as he lives he must be obeyed."
This calmed the threatened insurrection. Oomah's words had been calculated to uphold their respect for the one who was their leader and they had accomplished their purpose, so the subject was dismissed.
"Would you hear more?" the youth asked.
"Yes, yes," came the response in a chorus of eager voices. "Tell us another story."
"This, also have I not seen," the storyteller continued, "nor do I hope ever to see it. But it has been known that at certain intervals of time a mysterious spirit appears in the forest—a huge black being, so powerful and so ferocious that every living thing shrinks from it in terror. Our sharpest arrows, shot from the most powerful bows do not harm it. It roars at night so that the sound of its voice may be heard a distance of a full day's travel and it slays on sight but does not devour the men it kills."
The hearers drew closer together. They were too interested for speech.
"It is said that the terrible monster is a phantom, sent by Tumwah, God of Drought to punish us for our evil deeds. It takes the form of the tiger but of a black color. May none of you ever come under the spell of this vile spirit."
The tale was interrupted at this time. A shadow flashed past them on the sand.
"See, see," Oomah shouted, jumping to his feet. He pointed to a black bird, a vulture, that was circling over their heads.
"The omen never fails. Siluk is coming; he is upon us. Look! look!"
He was now pointing to the fleeting shadow on the sand. Some of the bird's primary feathers were gone so that the wings cast a barred shadow.
"When the vulture sheds his wing-feathers the rains have started to fall in the mountains. Run, all of you, to the high banks and remain there. I will go to warn the others. Soon the flood will be upon us."
The urchins fled without further urging. And Oomah started on a run toward the cluster of hovels on the margin of the water.
His cries brought out the men and women before he reached their midst, and it required but a moment to deliver his message.
"Impossible," Choflo replied with a malicious gleam in his eyes. "The sign did not appear to me."
"But, I saw it. The children saw it. Gather up what you can and run for your lives."
"No!" The leader raised his hands. "The flood will not reach us. I will stop it."
He raised his voice in a low, droning chant but before he had uttered a dozen words there came a distant roar, dull but unmistakable, that drowned the sound of his incantation.
The Indians needed no further evidence of the truth of Oomah's warning. Abandoning everything, they rushed in a body toward the distant bank that meant safety; and Choflo, despite his years, well held his place among them.
They were just in time. Scarcely had the last man gained the higher ground than the wall of water thundered down the riverbed, engulfing everything in its path. Their weapons were lost; the turtles in the corrals were swept away; their cooking utensils had vanished. Had they heeded Oomah without delay it would have been different.
They had escaped with nothing but their lives; but, even for this they were grateful even though it meant days of suffering in the rain-drenched forest before they could again replace their loss.
THE TERROR OF CLAWS AND FANGS.
When Suma, the Jaguar, driven from the dismal wastes of the pantenal country by the encroaching floods of the rainy season reached the higher, forested region skirting the Andean foothills, she entered upon a wild orgy of terrorism and slaughter.
Her instinct gratified, Suma retired to the cavity in the cottonwood while the torrential rains fell with a monotonous roar, and the craneflies with their lacy, whirring wings formed a curtain in the entrance to lend sanctity to the inner chamber.
Ordinarily, Suma did not destroy wantonly; she killed for food only or in self-defense; or, in resentment of the too familiar advances or the indifference of some one of the less intelligent creatures that had not yet learned to respect her power and acknowledge her sovereignty in the jungle. But, the present was not an ordinary occasion, for soon Warruk, as the Indians on the Ichilo River called the Jaguar cub, was to make his appearance in the big world; and it was but for his comfort and safety that Suma provided.
After a three days' retirement the great cat emerged from the seclusion of her dark retreat, hungry and ferocious but with a stealth and caution well calculated to evade any prying eyes that might attempt to observe her actions from the treetops and surmise their meaning.
A puff, like smoke, from the entrance to the cavity announced her coming; but it was only the madly dancing cloud of craneflies clearing the passage at her approach.
The rain was falling with a steady drone from a sky of unbroken, cheerless gray, and rivulets of water trickled from the drooping vegetation. Mosses and ferns, revived by the superabundance of moisture had sprung up on the decaying trunks and branches of the uprooted trees, pushing their feathery leaflets through the blanket of creepers and forming a dense, soggy layer cold and clammy to the touch and treacherous underfoot. But Suma knew her domicile well and passed rapidly and surefootedly over the interlocking tree skeletons and soon reached the level forest floor.
Straight as an arrow she headed to the north on some mission well-known to herself, moving like a shadow and at a rapid pace. Before long the windfall with the giant cottonwood containing the precious little Warruk had been left far behind. Suma knew where the round, red chonta nuts grew and that they ripened during the season of rains; and that even now the ground was covered with the tasty morsels. But this knowledge was of a vague nature only and interested her but indirectly. What was far more important was that the peccary herds fed on the chonta nuts and were sure to be in the neighborhood of their favorite feeding-grounds.
To stalk and kill one of the ferocious little animals entailed a great deal of danger—to the inexperienced hunter, but Suma feared them not. Never, since the time she had miscalculated the distance of the spring and had succeeded only in slightly wounding her quarry—with the resultant squeal of terror and the onrush of fully a hundred of the stricken one's fellows—and the night of uncertainty spent in the treetop, had they given her any trouble. But all that is another story as likely as not to repeat itself in the life of Warruk for it seemed that trouble with a peccary herd fell to the lot of every Jaguar and was part of his education.
The clump of chonta trees grew a good five miles from the windfall. Suma had covered half the distance when a sharp odor in the air caused her to stop and, standing like an exquisitely chiselled statue, with tensed muscles and alert poise, to drink deeply the scent-laden air. The vision of a peccary dinner left her instantly and her pink tongue stole out gently until it touched her moist, black nose in anticipation of a far more satisfying gorge on venison.
A moment later the Jaguar resumed her journey, but in a different direction. She had swerved at right angles to her former course and was hot on the trail of the deer.
Like a shadow Suma seemed to flow over the ground, looking neither to right nor left, the massive paws falling with the lightness of leaves dropping from the trees. A frightened agouti scampered across her path and stopped, frozen with fear, and a green ribbon-like snake drooping in festoons from a low-growing branch hastily drew up its coils as the big cat passed below.
Again Suma paused to sniff the air, then advanced; but this time in a careless, leisurely manner. In a moment she came upon the deer standing in an open little glade among the dark tree trunks. If the creature was startled by the appearance of the Jaguar, it gave no indication of the fact. It snorted and stamped its forefeet while Suma sat down on the wet leaves and surveyed her intended victim in the most unconcerned manner. For a moment the two stared at one another. Then, without warning, the brocket turned and darted away.
Suma did not follow. Instead she arose and began to search the neighborhood, for the other creature's actions plainly betrayed the fact that she had a fawn hidden nearby. Why exhaust herself in a fruitless chase after the fleeting mother whose speed was so much greater than her own and who had dashed away simply to deceive her foe and in the hope of drawing her from the spot where her offspring was concealed? The fawn, far more desirable than its elder, could be had for the mere finding.
But the fawn had already learned one of the most important lessons of life and this bit of knowledge had saved him from an untimely end no fewer than seven times during his ten days on earth.
Now, the fawn was prettily spotted, and most persons who delve into such matters and try to reconcile cause and effect, particularly from a distant point of view, would have said that this coloration was the means of rendering it, crouching among the ferns with head and neck flattened to the ground, invisible to its enemies. But the truth of the matter was that its color had nothing to do with its security. During the hours of dusk and darkness when the predaceous animals came out to hunt, the fawn might have been red or blue or green so far as its color was concerned with its safety, for in the gloom of the jungle all objects not snowy white appeared black if they could be distinguished at all. The important thing was that it lay motionless—had been in this identical position for some time, and so long as it did not move it gave off no scent. It was for this same reason that the tinamou and quail and other ground-nesting birds escaped the keen noses of the foxes, otherwise they would have been exterminated long ago. The preying animals hunted by scent, not by sight.
If the brocket mother, after her wild dash in the hope of luring Suma from the spot had only stayed away both she and her offspring would have been safe. But, finding that her ruse had been unsuccessful she anxiously returned. The Jaguar sensed her coming and waited; the snort and impatient stamp that announced her arrival was superfluous for Suma had seen her approach.
Again the deer tried to lead her enemy away, trotting off a few paces and turning to look back with large, questioning eyes. The big cat merely sat upright and yawned as if bored by the proceedings. The brocket retraced her steps, but the Jaguar seemed not to notice and began to wash one of her massive paws. By this time the deer was thoroughly aroused; she grunted and stamped her feet and pivoted this way and that. Suma, while feigning indifference, eagerly watched each movement and when the brocket, finally, frantic with apprehension made one of her quick turns the Jaguar glided forward a few steps and sprang. Like a flash she catapulted through the air; there was the gleam of white fangs and when the jaws crunched together they closed upon the neck of the unfortunate deer, crushing the vertebra. A second swift lunge below the shoulder and the long teeth had penetrated the heart. The deer, with a startled gasp staggered forward a step and dropped. Suma eagerly lapped up the red pool forming on the wet leaves, purring with satisfaction and then fell upon her victim with a savage relish, for not in days had she eaten.
Long before the gory feast was completed the fawn, becoming impatient at its mother's non-return, left the clump of arums, green leaves, wide as an elephant's ear, not ten yards away and ambled up unsuspiciously to within a few feet of the great cat where it stood and gazed with wide, innocent eyes upon the fearful scene before it. Suma paid no attention to the little creature, even when it came a step nearer and bleated plaintively, for she had enough before her to satisfy her hunger. And when the Jaguar had eaten her fill she carefully cleansed her face and paws and started toward the river to drink before returning to the windfall. The fawn followed, so she increased her pace, hopelessly outdistancing the little creature and leaving it to the mercy of the next marauder that chanced to pass that way. Without the guidance of its mother it was a forlorn and pathetic little object left to drift aimlessly through the rain-soaked forest with its numerous watchful eyes and alert ears. Somehow, the other creatures sensed the fawn's helplessness and the news soon spread among them. Shadowy forms appeared where there should have been none. And the awe-inspiring Suma had scarcely succeeded in shaking the dainty little sprite off her trail when it met an untimely end from an unexpected quarter.
A family of great owls had been following the jungle tragedy from the black trees, with large, glowing eyes. And when the proper moment arrived they swooped down with noiseless wings like spirits from a shadow world. Monsters of fury they were, stabbing and rending with needle-sharp claws and hooked beaks that clattered; tearing at eye and throat and flank until the poor fawn succumbed to the terrific attack. Then they fretted and quarrelled among themselves, grunting and bowing, and striking at one another with arched wings as they hopped around their victim. The commotion attracted a pack of five short-tailed, dog-like creatures which rushed upon the scene and drove the owls back to their sphere in the tree tops, while they cleaned up the remains.
When Suma again emerged from her lair, two nights later, she started in a different direction. Never did she return to a kill the second time or hunt on two successive occasions in the same region.
Unless she remained to ward off the hungry advances of a host of other creatures there would never be enough of her victims left to come back for; and even if there had been, one short day's time in the hot, steaming jungle atmosphere sufficed to cause the flesh to decay. Suma had ideas of her own about spending the days away from her proper rendezvous; and as for carrion, she never failed to give it a wide berth.
As to her hunting instincts, there were several reasons why a region should be shunned after one of its denizens had been slain. A nightly raid in the same place might cause the creatures living in it either to become so wary that soon it would be impossible to secure any of them at all; or, they would be exterminated which was even worse. No! Suma obeyed well the impulse that guided her actions. By visiting a new district on each quest of food the game was not too greatly disturbed and its numbers or existence was not imperilled.
Nor was this instinct confined to the Jaguar alone. The other flesh-eating animals also heeded it. And the wild tribes that inhabited the wilderness knew from bitter experience that it was best to conserve their food supply and that to waste today was to want tomorrow. It was only when men who professed some degree of civilization appeared on the scene that the wild things found existence impossible; and the more advanced the men the greater the slaughter. They showed an insatiable lust for killing—under one pretext or another; but always they killed, with guns and rifles and—from a safe distance.
On her second food-hunt since the arrival of Warruk, the cub, Suma essayed to visit the margin of the swollen, raging river where the fat capybaras lived in the dense cane brakes. The great creatures, like hundred-pound guinea pigs, were rancid eating, it is true, but this was in a measure counterbalanced by the fact that to capture them required no excessive effort. Both by day and by night they were very much in evidence gnawing tirelessly at the tough canes and when the stems were finally severed they squatted complacently and munched the broad, ribbon-like leaves. One wondered when, if ever, they slept; and why, in the midst of such an abundance of food their appetites seemed never satisfied. Upon the first sign of danger they stopped eating only long enough to give vent to their resentment of the disturbance in a few guttural grunts; but once the spectre of disaster was swooping down upon them they made hurriedly for the water and dived with a loud splash. They were good swimmers, with only the head showing above the surface sending out a trail of V-shaped ripples that shimmered and sparkled if the sun shone, and on moonlit nights. Often, however, they swam under water to some nearby island reed-bed or to the security of a burrow beneath the overhanging bank.
The rain had stopped for one of those rare and all too brief intervals that broke the monotony of the sullen roar and the misery caused by a perpetually drenched skin when the Jaguar approached the fringe of tall, waving canes. Broad runways opened into the maze of stalks where the capybaras had gnawed their way through the dense growth and then hastily had turned back to start a new one—just as a woodpecker chiseling a hole through a wall and dismayed at seeing daylight ahead, leaves the laboriously excavated tunnel and quickly starts another.
The forest beyond the canes was an unknown world of lurking dangers. But the capybaras simply found it impossible to loose themselves from it. Always, at the most unexpected moment they came suddenly upon it looming before them like a sinister, black monster.
Suma boldly entered one of the numerous openings for she knew it was not there she would come upon her intended victims. She was only taking an easy route to the main path that ran parallel to the river but upon nearing this she immediately left the beaten trail and glided into the growth at one side. There she lay in wait fully concealed by the darkness, and the stems and leaves.
In addition to the wide runway trodden by the feet of countless generations of the great rodents there were other evidences of their recent presence and the atmosphere was laden with their scent. Suma sniffed the heavy air greedily and her eyes glowed as she shifted her gaze up and down the thoroughfare for a first glimpse of an unsuspecting victim to come her way. There was but a minute to wait. A black, rounded hulk appeared, moving with the silence of a shadow; on the near side were two smaller forms, young, moving along stealthily at the side of their mother. The Jaguar's mind was made up instantly; when the trio came within range she would pounce upon the cubs, for they were tender and without the layers of rancid fat of the older animal. But while her eyes shone with the fire of anticipation and her tail lashed ever so slightly an unforeseen thing happened. Evidently a difference of opinion over some matter or other arose between the two smaller creatures, for they stopped suddenly and began fighting, rolling over and over amidst squeals and groans, feet waving in the air, and teeth champing, more in bluff than in menace. Their elder, impatient at the disgraceful conduct of her offspring turned and chided them with a stamp of her forefoot and a low grunt.
The commotion startled a cane rat which was stealing down the path so that it bolted for the nearest cover with a loud patter of feet, heading straight for the Jaguar, of whose presence it was unaware. Suma saw it just in time to raise a massive paw in order to avoid contact with the lowly creature, but when she lowered the great foot it was directly upon the rodent's tail for it had stopped as soon as it had reached the protection of the canes. Of course this calamity was infinitely worse than the noise that had first frightened it and the rat promptly began to squeak with a lustiness that was surprising, the shrill voice carrying a distance of many yards. The capybaras immediately stopped fighting and all three wheeled to see the cause of the disturbance. Their eyes caught the glint of Suma's burning orbs and with a cry of alarm they dashed into the brakes. The Jaguar followed like a streak but their lead had been too great and in a moment three distinct splashes in quick succession announced the fact that they had dived to safety in the river. From up and down the line of riverbank came the resounding plump, plump of other heavy bodies. The danger signal had not gone unheeded and with a growl of rage and disgust Suma turned to slink away from the scene of her disappointment. Further hunting in that region was useless. Not for days would the capybaras trust themselves more than a few steps from the security of the waterside. So, with a second deep rumble of chagrin the mighty cat skirted the outside of the cane-brake and was compelled to satisfy her hunger on a couple of agoutis.
Sometimes the Jaguar hunted each night; more often it was every second night. It depended entirely upon the size of her kill. And all the time not required in procuring food was spent within the cavity in the cottonwood fondling and guarding the precious Warruk.
Three weeks had passed. The cub had grown at a surprising rate and was beginning to observe his immediate surroundings, though still unsteady and exceedingly awkward. The first thing he saw was his mother and he was sure she was the most beautiful thing in the world—which was exactly the way he should have felt. He snuggled close to her warm body, looked adoringly into her face, and purred, while she, proud and happy in his possession, smoothed his soft, velvety fur with her tongue while a deep rumble of satisfaction came from her throat.
It was shortly after this that the thing happened that caused Suma to reverse her course of procedure so far as hunting was concerned, and came near bringing dire consequences.
She was returning to her abode rather earlier than usual, having succeeded in cutting off a straggler from the peccary herd and killing it before its cries could bring the other numerous members of the band to its rescue. Spurred on by some subtle sense of intuition she had eaten hurriedly and then made for her home where the cub had been left curled upon the rotting chips and leaves, sound asleep.
As she bounded lightly over the first prostrate tree-trunks of the windfall, an infrequent but not unfamiliar odor assailed her nostrils. It was a disagreeable smell, not unlike that of cabbage or potatoes in the first stages of decay. The first tinge of it lashed her into frenzy so that she sprang forward in great leaps risking the breaking of her legs in the jam of branches and tangled creepers. Her only thought was of her little one. Had she arrived in time to save him from a horrible fate, or should she find the lair empty?
Near the entrance to the cavity she stopped with a terrible growl. The sinewy body of a great snake—a bushmaster,—was gliding rapidly into the opening; in fact, half its scale-covered length had already disappeared from view. This was an advantage to the Jaguar for the head with its death-dealing fangs, being in the cavity, was rendered harmless unless the serpent had heard her coming and had doubled back with the lightning speed of which it was capable. But, so fixed was its attention upon the still sleeping cub that it had heard nothing until the growl apprised it of the presence of danger; and then it was too late. The great paw fell upon the back of the reptile with a crash, shattering the bones and crushing the flesh into a pulp. Out of the cavity darted the arrow-shaped head, hissing and lunging frantically and blindly in all directions, while the latter half of the body writhed impotently and twisted itself into knots; but the snake could not move from the spot.
Suma drew back to a safe distance and waited, and before long the contortions of the great serpent became less violent; then they stopped altogether, but the triangular head raised above the mass of coils was turned toward the crouching Jaguar while the greenish eyes glared at her with a demoniacal hate. Suma knew her enemy well; to move suddenly was to invite the deadly stroke. So she began creeping, so slowly and so evenly that it was impossible to detect the slightest motion. Inch by inch she advanced but not for an instant did her eyes leave those of the snake. The latter took no note of this strategy or else seemed spell-bound by the blazing eyes of its adversary. Nearer and nearer she came, even more slowly than before, with tense muscles ready to carry her far to one side should the snake suddenly awake to its peril and strike. At last but a scant yard separated them.
The reptile's black, thread-like tongue began to play in and out of its mouth with great rapidity. Apparently it was so confused or dazed that it could not see clearly and was feeling for the antagonist that was so near. The decisive moment had arrived. A massive forefoot bristling with claws an inch long streaked through the air and fell on the serpent's head with a thud, followed by another, equally crushing; long, white teeth set in wide-open jaws flashed for an instant ere they met to sever the mutilated head from the quivering body. In a moment the snake had been clawed and mauled into a mass of pulp, and leaving it where it lay Suma hastened to the side of the now wide awake Warruk. She pushed him over gently with her nose, licked his face and sides, grunted with satisfaction and then curled up beside him.
When daylight came there was the swish of wings through the air followed by the sound of heavy bodies alighting. A trio of vultures had appeared on the scene, guided unfailingly by some mysterious sense known only to themselves. They hopped and flapped awkwardly over the rough surface of the windfall to where the dead snake lay and began to tear at the flesh. As they ate they quarrelled noisily among themselves croaking and sighing with hoarse voices and striking at one another with wings and beaks.
The Jaguar watched their antics with little interest and made no attempt to disturb them. When they had gorged themselves on the loathsome repast they tore off long strips of flesh and carrying them in their hooked beaks flew to the lower branches of the nearest trees.
After her encounter with the bushmaster, Suma spent as little time as possible away from her abode. Knowing that the deadly snake hunted by night only, the Jaguar changed her former habit and went in search of food during the daylight hours, spending the hours of darkness at home, on guard against any similar intruder.
Warruk grew at a surprising rate; for, being alone the nourishment ordinarily sufficient for two, occasionally even three, was all diverted to his use. Before many weeks had passed he began to show interest in various things that attracted his attention. After spending many hours in admiration of his mother's beautiful coat, tawny with rosettes of black dots and with longer and softer white fur underneath, he wondered at the length of her claws, the whiteness of her fangs and the great size of her—it tired him to walk completely around her as she lay sprawled out on the floor.
There was also the tender care she gave him and her solicitude for his welfare to be taken into consideration. She was forever caressing him with her nose and washing his face with her tongue. The picture within the cavity in the great cottonwood was a pleasant one to contemplate. Suma the mother was a creature different from Suma the hunter moving shadow-like through the forest intent on slaughter.
The hunting instinct asserted itself early in Warruk's life, and quite unexpectedly. On one of his excursions around the outstretched form of his mother he suddenly became conscious of a black fluff of something that was jumping nervously from side to side. Crouching low, he watched intently, prompted at first by curiosity. Back and forth the object moved, lightly and without sound. An irresistible impulse came over the cub; he ran forward a few steps, stopped, then sprang and the mysterious thing was pinned firmly to the ground by his paws while his sharp little teeth dug into it furiously.
Suma jumped to her feet with a grunt of surprise, quickly turned and gave him a gentle cuff that however bowled him over, and when he regained his feet, very much perturbed and startled, he arched up his back and hissed, not knowing what else to do. It was the first time he had noticed Suma's long, graceful tail, which was never quiet except when she slept; but after that he had many a happy game of tag with the tip of it even if there was the certainty of punishment ahead in the event that his play became too strenuous. While his mother was a firm believer in discipline she was never too severe; and often, after the chastisement she hastened to caress him so that he quickly forgot the occurrence.
Warruk's real education began when his mother started to bring some of her victims to the lair. For this purpose she always chose the smaller animals which she ordinarily should not have bothered to kill for her own use. Mice, spiny rats, forest quail and an occasional squirrel were taken to the cavity at various times and carelessly deposited by the side of the cub. Cautious at first of making too intimate advances toward these unfamiliar objects he began soon to look forward to the return of his mother, knowing well that she would not come empty-handed. He pounced upon the lifeless forms clawing, biting and shaking them until the fur or feathers flew, amid growls and snarls that were but the forerunners of the ferocious nature which would assert itself when latent character was fully developed. Suma always watched the proceedings with a complacent expression, fully satisfied with the progress of her offspring.
Although using every strategy to conceal her secret from the other inhabitants of the forest, particularly while in the vicinity of the windfall, the actions of the Jaguar had not escaped the sharp eyes of a band of female howling monkeys that frequented the wall of trees on one side. They were alone, that is, the males had been driven to distant parts until the mothers could bring forth their young and rear them to the point where they were no longer in danger of death at the hands and teeth of their jealous fathers.
Among the members of the troop, numbering four, was Myla, sad and forlorn of face and housing a broken heart within her bosom, for she had lost her baby. It happened early one afternoon when the four had ascended to the top of a tall tree to dry their bedraggled fur during one of those rare intervals when the clouds broke and the sun showed his brassy face for a brief time. Such an opportunity was not to be neglected. Happy and grateful they were, the four monkey mothers, sitting on the dome of green leaves, each with her little one in her lap while her long fingers delved among its rather sparse fur. Then, like a bolt out of a blue sky it fell. A shadow plunged down from the heavens with a rush that was almost a roar; wide-spreading feet with long, curved talons shot out of the hurtling black mass, and Myla's lap was empty. She leaped high into the air after the marauder with a frantic scream of anguish only to fall back heavily upon the boughs clutching a black feather in her hand. The eagle had made good its escape and flapped away above the green sea of treetops with a cry of triumph.
Myla was mad with grief for hours after that and the other three joined their voices to her barks and wails of sorrow as they moved restlessly among the branches in constant dread of another visit from their aerial foe. But when at last this external show of emotion had subsided the bereaved mother looked with envious eyes at the offspring of her more fortunate sisters. The latter, however, were not slow to divine the thoughts that filled her mind. When she approached them, apparently with the most innocent of motives they charged savagely and drove her off. All her plotting availed her nothing.
And now, Myla had observed the big, spotted cat stealthily making her way over the windfall with food in her mouth. Not once, but many times had she clandestinely peered from her concealed position among the dense foliage; and each time the Jaguar had entered the same cavity in the great tree-trunk. That could mean but one thing; she too had a baby.
A fierce hope sprang up in Myla's empty heart and rapidly grew into an obsession; but soon she realized with a sinking sensation how futile were her desires. She was no match for the Jaguar; indeed, the mere sight of the fearsome beast made her tremble. Never could she muster the courage to descend from her lofty perch while such a creature roamed the earth below.
In spite of these sound conclusions, an indescribable fascination held her prisoner in its grasp. So day after day she spied longingly and furtively upon the comings and goings of the big cat.
As for Suma, unsuspicious of the existence of the pair of burning eyes that followed her movements, the days were brimming over with contentment.
Warruk was growing by the hour, or at least so it seemed, and increasing in sprightliness each day. He even insisted on following her to the entrance of the cavity when she departed and met her there when she returned. The fear that he might some day disobey her injunction and sally forth alone in her absence did not once occur to her. She trusted him to obey, even if he was different in one respect from her other children, and for this difference he was doubly precious to her. For, the first beams of daylight falling upon his glossy fur revealed the fact that he was black. Instead of being a miniature replica of his mother with her lovely markings he shone with a satiny lustre the tone of jet. A rarity indeed was Warruk, and because of his color, destined to grow into the largest and most ferocious of his species. Had the Indians on the Ichilo River known of the birth of the black cub they would have beaten their breasts and wailed, "Simla Wallah-Caru," meaning "a Black Phantom has come to haunt us;" and they would have placed offerings of roots and nuts, and calabashes of milk from the milk-palm in the forest to soothe and placate the temper of the shadowy one.
Warruk, all oblivious of the fact that he was in any way different from the usual, spent his waking hours in play. Many were the victims Suma brought him on which to exercise his developing powers, but so far they were of scant interest to him as food.
As the days passed the cub's curiosity concerning the opening that led into the world increased and as he looked in wonder at the splash of light coming through the doorway he determined to learn more about it. He started toward the enchanting radiance with cautious steps, but ere he had gone far his mother halted him with deep rumblings in her throat, well calculated to inspire him with awe. Never must he venture to the border of that outer world without her guidance, she repeated. Death, or a thousand mishaps almost as bad awaited him there from the trees, the earth and even from subterranean places of concealment.
Warruk took the warning seriously and retreated with high-arched back, but he liked to sit upright and watch the mysterious shaft of light and to wonder.
Suma had gone for more playthings for her little one, as was her custom. And, as she disappeared through the opening the cub sat for a long time pondering and fighting to keep back the curiosity that was consuming him. As he looked a dark rounded form like a ball of some fluffy material blown by the wind rolled across the patch of light near the doorway. He glided toward it noiselessly, filled with the spirit of adventure. Then he stopped, crouching with tense muscles while his little eyes shone with a new light. Again the strange object came into view on the return trip, and with an agile leap Warruk had pounced on top of it. It wriggled under his feet, and squeaked dolefully and for a moment he was at a loss as to what to do next. Then he cautiously raised one forefoot, bent his head and sniffed at the soft, warm thing and remembered that it was exactly like the rats his mother had brought him, only smaller; but they were always limp and silent while this one struggled and made queer little noises! He raised his other paw for a good look at the creature, his heart pounding wildly with excitement. And the mouse, feeling the pressure relaxing gave one quick wrench and was free. Warruk bounded after it but it slipped nimbly into a crevice in the rotten wood and was gone. Exasperated at being outwitted he clawed and bit furiously at the minute opening into which his captive had escaped, spitting and growling the while. His exertions only tired him so at last he was compelled to stop to rest.
It seemed however, that this was destined to be Warruk's unlucky day. Scarcely had he thrown himself down upon the litter of soft chips than another black, rounded form hove into view, precisely where the first had been; but it was of larger size. This time there would be no mincing of matters. He was determined that the new prize should not escape him. With a savage little snarl he rushed at the newcomer and struck it with all the might at his command.
A howl of pain escaped him as he tried to lift his paw quite as quickly as it had descended but the awful thing clung to it and it was only after a number of vigorous shakes that he succeeded in dislodging it. In his lack of experience he had planted his paw directly upon a giant rhinoceros beetle with bristling, thorn-like "antlers" one of which had penetrated the skin between the pads. The pain was intense so he held up the injured member and wailed for his mother; he was in trouble and wanted her badly.
Fortunately, Suma at that very moment was stealing across the windfall and at the sound of her offspring's cries of distress she darted forward with frantic speed and rushed into the cavity so hurriedly she upset him. Warruk scrambled to his feet and followed her to the farther end of the hollow where she licked his foot until the pain left. At the same time she chided him for his disobedience and again tried to impress upon him the peril of venturing too near the outer world while she was away. And childlike, Warruk remembered the lesson for a period of exactly one day.
Again Suma was away, working havoc among the smaller wildfolk. Time hung heavy and the light of the world beyond his horizon exerted a stronger fascination than ever. It attracted the cub like a magnet and before he knew it he was standing before the opening. His eyes opened wide at the strange scene in front of him. Inside the cavity there was only darkness, or gloom at best. Outside were light and heaps and walls of green things that moved as if alive. Everything was dazzling and brilliant; even the sun had burst through the angry clouds to bid him welcome.
Warruk wanted to go out among the waving, dripping leaves that sparkled as the sunlight caught the drops of crystal water hanging in fringes from their edges, and to drink in the fresh, moist air; but he dared not venture out. All he had the courage to do was to stare in awe and wonder.
Something moved at his feet, startling him so that he withdrew quickly into the shelter of his safe retreat; but upon observing it for a while he concluded that it must be nothing more than some new kind of mouse or similar creature. It was dark and danced back and forth in a dainty manner as if inviting pursuit. The cub retraced his steps and reached for it gingerly with one paw but it evaded him and fled lightly to one side. Again he reached and again there was nothing in which to fasten his sharp, little claws. Then he became more eager than ever to capture the elusive something. He struck at it, ran after it and jumped on top of it but it always escaped him; for the puzzling thing was only the shadow cast by a bunch of trumpet-flower dangling high overhead.
The antics of Warruk had not escaped the watchful eye of Myla, the bereft monkey. And in her eagerness to see the better she descended to the lower branches and leaned far out over the ridge of the windfall. How the actions of the cub reminded her of those of her own little one! And how she longed to clasp the small form in her arms! To feel it near her breast and to stroke its silky fur. The mother-love was strong in Myla and her loss still caused her untold agony.
As she watched, with yearning heart, she suddenly became aware of the appearance of Suma on the far edge of the upheaved barrier and with a sob she realized that in a moment her joy would be ended. The little creature would disappear into the dark cavity with its mother; perhaps she should never see it again.
An impulse that smothered all fear, all caution swept over her with an urge that defied resistance; and dropping to the tangle of forest wreckage she bounded to the cub's side, seized him and clasping him in one arm sped back to the trees.
Suma had seen it all; but in spite of every effort had been unable to reach the thief before she swung gracefully into the branches and made for the denser growth of the interior. Mad with hate and fury she raced along the ground roaring and whining in turn while Myla bounded through the leafy canopy high overhead; and in chorus with the cries of anguish from below, and the triumphant chatter of the monkey, came the screams of Warruk terror-striken and helpless, rushing headlong to certain doom.
AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING
In stealing Warruk, the Jaguar cub, the howling monkey acted on the spur of the moment. She had been disconsolate since the loss of her own baby, stolen from her lap by a pitiless eagle and borne away in the sharp talons as the marauder skimmed the level expanse of treetops to its nest on the bleak mountainside.
But not until she was leaping through the tops of the tall trees did she regain her normal senses and feel reasonably safe; she even stopped occasionally to look in triumph at the outraged mother fuming and threatening so far below. When she reached the heavier growth covering the foothills she stopped to examine the little creature in her arms.
Myla's heart beat with ecstasy as she surveyed her small captive. She held him at arm's length, turned him around slowly and felt of his ears and feet, for by this time Warruk had stopped struggling but continued his plaintive whining. Then she drew closer and peered into his face; but the moment she did this the cub's forepaws shot out, inflicting parallel rows of deep, painful scratches in her cheeks. The monkey bounded upward and nearly lost her footing as she screeched in surprise and resentment; then she drew back her free hand as if to give him a cuff but instead, quickly stooped and gave him a sharp nip in the back of the neck. But remorse overcame her immediately so she placed the little form across her lap and gently stroked his fur. This was soothing indeed to the terrified and exhausted Warruk and soon he stopped whining and lay helplessly gazing at his unfamiliar surroundings.
It did not take Myla long to discover that the possession of her foster-child did not bring her the joy she had anticipated for he was most unlike her own unfortunate offspring. He ignored the choice fruits and buds she picked for him, repaid her caresses with scratches, screams and snarls or received them in the most indifferent manner in those rare intervals when he did not violently resent them. Myla was in a quandary. Should she restore him to his mother by taking him back to the windfall? Should she desert him in the treetops, or should she cast him to the ground and thus be rid of him quickly and without trouble? No! She had longed for him, had risked her life to gain possession of him, and she would keep him against all odds. He did not fill the void left in her heart by the inroad of the ruthless eagle; he did drive her to the point of distraction; but he was new and interesting just as a doll or a mirror or a rubber ball would have been.
As for Warruk, he was far from having an enjoyable time. At first he was terrified at the great creature that clutched him so closely he could scarcely breathe. He struggled, bluffed, clawed and bit his captor but she was tolerant and agile and usually forgave him or managed to hold him in such a way that his outbursts were futile.
The cub was frightened at being so high above the ground; at the prodigious leaps taken by his abductor; at the strange calls of the birds and at the wind screeching through the branches; and at the hundred other new and terrifying things. When night came he was more frightened than ever. He wanted his mother. Why did she not come with the customary dainty for him? It was dry and cozy in the hollow in the giant cottonwood and he missed the daily game of rough and tumble. In the treetops it was cold and damp.
The monkey seemed to divine his thoughts but in reality was thinking only of her own comfort and safety. She chose a tall palm with spine-covered trunk and broad leaves for her sleeping place. And when she was snugly ensconced under the umbrella-like top which the rain could not penetrate Warruk was truly grateful for the warmth and shelter and promptly fell asleep. Once during the hours of darkness he awoke with a start; from below had come the sound of a familiar voice, faint but unmistakable. Myla too had been awakened and stirred uneasily. But as the sound was not repeated the monkey again slept while the cub felt a first, faint ray of hope and happiness, for he knew that his mother had not deserted him; in fact, was even then close at hand and would come to his assistance at the proper time.
All through the hours of night Myla hugged the little form close to her body. When he whimpered or struggled she quieted him by stroking his head and back, making soft, cooing sounds the while.
When daylight came the monkey again examined and admired her newly adopted little one. It was raining, as usual, and not until the day was well advanced did she venture from the protection afforded by the roof-like palm-leaves overhead. Even then she did not leave from choice. Grim necessity drove her from her snug retreat—the necessity of procuring food. And as for Warruk, he was so hungry he could think of nothing else. He forgot his great fear, his resentment toward his captor, even his longing for his mother; what he wanted more than anything else in the world was something to eat. Never had he been so famished.
Myla knew where a clump of wild figs were bending under their burden of ripe fruit and she hastened to the spot. The wild fig was a terrible thing. It started as a slender creeper feeling its way toward the light above the vast expanse of forest roof, clinging lightly to the trunk of some tall, sturdy tree. As it climbed, stealthily, like a viper stealing upon its victim, it sent out slender tendrils that completely encircled its support; and when its crown reached the bright sunlight high above the ground the slender stem quickly thickened to massive proportions and the tendrils widened into bands like steel that tightened and strangled the life out of the helpless tree. Then the fig blossomed and brought forth its small, red fruit.
Myla was fond of the juicy berries; so were the other members of her tribe and the bird hosts including even some of the flycatchers. Reaching the feeding place, the monkey climbed nimbly into the branches, venturing as far as she dared; then she reached out with one hand and drew the springy tips of the limbs toward her, picking the luscious morsels with her mouth.
Warruk watched her eat and knew what she was doing. When he whimpered suggestively she pulled down a branch very low and waited for him to eat. But the food was unknown to him so he ignored it. Myla seemed offended at his refusal and proceeded to devour the berries without ceremony.
An hour later the monkey's sharp eyes detected the nest of a toucan made in the hollow of a thick branch. An opening much like the doorway to a woodpecker's abode led into a spacious cavity on the bottom of which reposed two fat, ugly fledgelings. As yet their bodies were naked excepting only for dark rows of pin feathers bursting through their sheathes; and their bills were very short instead of long and thick like those of their elders.
When the monkey, after peering intently into the opening for some time finally reached into it and drew out one of the struggling young birds, Warruk's interest was aroused at once. He made a lunge for it and seizing it in his mouth growled so menacingly while his claws dug deeply in Myla's side that she hastened to put him down on the branch while she withdrew a short distance to watch the proceedings. Free of his captor the cub crouched low and greedily devoured the prize while Myla hopped up and down excitedly and screeched and chattered her opinion of the unexpected sight. The parent birds, feeding in a nearby tree, heard the commotion and surmised that it spelled disaster for their brood. They stopped plucking fruits with their long beaks and tossing them into their throats and flew heavily to their nesting tree. The spectacle that greeted their eyes filled them with consternation. They rattled and clattered their horny mandibles and yelped dog-like while they swung about the branches like the accomplished acrobats they were. Their cries of distress brought others of their tribe from a distance who lent their voices to the din until the treetops were filled with a screeching, whirling mob.
This demonstration unnerved the monkey. She snatched up the cub still clinging to his unfinished meal, and darted away at breakneck speed. Her show of fright gave courage to the toucans. They immediately took up the pursuit, their white throats flashing a sharp contrast to their black bodies as they hurtled after the fleeing monkey, easily keeping pace with her and nipping her ears and back and tail. At each pinch Myla emitted a scream and increased her speed until she seemed to fly through the branches handicapped though she was by the cub securely tucked under one arm. And Warruk, unable to fathom the new calamity that had befallen him, clung to the half-devoured bird with his teeth and to the monkey with his claws as they skimmed through space until their tormentors gave up the chase and returned to their own affairs.
The hours that followed the loss of her offspring were filled with anguish for Suma. All night long she had lurked in the vicinity of the palm tree; but the frightful spines bristling from the trunk a distance of six inches effectively discouraged her from climbing to the rescue. Her loud demonstrations of rage and grief had given way to a strategy of watchfulness for the opportunity for revenge that must at some time, somehow, present itself, and then, woe to the audacious monkey that had dared incur her wrath. Her punishment should fit the crime.
When the storm that had uprooted the trees forming the windfall cut its wide swath through the forest the ridge of interlocking trunks and branches formed a barrier that most of the ground-inhabiting animals could not cross; also, the broad, open space between the wall of trees on each side was impassable to those dwellers of the treetops lacking wings or too timid to descend from the security of their aerial homes. The monkeys belonged to the latter class.
Here and there, however, where the cut narrowed somewhat the spreading branches of the great trees met overhead forming bridges that were utilized on occasions by the kinkajous, monkeys and other animals in crossing from one section of the jungle to the other.
The supply of fruits on the hill side of the windfall was becoming exhausted. There was no denying that fact, for the depredations of the toucans, trogons, tanagers and hosts of other birds that swarmed through the dripping branches were enough to strip even the most prolific of the fruit-bearers. Most destructive of all were the flocks of parrots; they wasted more than they ate. They plucked the choicest morsels, took one bite and dropped them or, snipping the stems with their shear-like mandibles permitted the nuts or berries to rattle down to the ground. Later, when there were no more to eat, let alone destroy, they complained with raucous screams as they were compelled to satisfy their hunger on leaves and buds.
Myla noted the coming shortage but remembered that lower down, near the river, the food supply always held out weeks after it had been exhausted in the foothills. And, all unconscious of the fact that the wrathful Suma was shadowing her every move, unconcernedly she made her way to the nearest bridge, a mile distant, and crossed to the land of plenty.
All that afternoon she feasted, Warruk spurning the delicacies she offered him but growling savagely as she drew the young of a trogon out of its nest in the cavity of a termites' domicile which was plastered, like a huge knob, on one of the high branches. And, when night came, tired and drowsy from overeating she forgot her usual caution and made herself comfortable on the nearest thick limb that offered her sleeping quarters, and which was close to the juicy figs so that she could resume her gorge early the next morning.
Suma observed the foolish creature's action and unable to restrain her impatience started stealthily to climb up the tree. Inch by inch she clambered up the columnar trunk. Warruk whimpered and Myla cooed low and stroked his back to quiet him; then she peered up and down and to both sides before again settling herself for sleep while Suma's claws dug deeply into the bark as she clung in dread suspense lest the monkey should discover her.
When all was quiet the Jaguar again resumed her upward journey while Myla slumbered on in blissful ignorance of the proximity of her deadly enemy.
As the gloom deepened numbers of the nocturnal feeders began to arrive. First of all came the kinkajous, beautiful creatures of the weasel family, with glossy brown fur and long, prehensile tails. In some respects they resembled monkeys. They were alert and active but silent as the very shadows.
The gray night monkeys put in their appearance soon after in a twittering, nervous band, snatched their food furtively, and departed without loss of time.
When the great curassows reached the spot it was with a rush of wings that startled all the other creatures to the point of panic. They were elegant birds, almost the size of turkeys, of a glossy, jet black color and having beautiful crests of curled feathers. As they ate, they flapped heavily from branch to branch and emitted low, groaning calls. Myla heard their coming and trembled as with an ague. It was not her first experience with the curassows but previously she had paid scant attention to them from the security of her perch in the spiny palm tree. Now it was a different matter. She was alone in a strange country and the uncanny noises all around her terrified her and made her flesh creep, and finally the nerve-racking commotion became unbearable. She arose and silently started back toward the bridge across the windfall.
Suma could not suppress a cough of disappointment and rage as the monkey slipped out of her reach. The one opportunity she had watched and waited for was gone. And, Warruk, hearing his mother's voice, replied with a wail of despair. As for Myla, the realization of her narrow escape had the same effect upon her that an exploding fire cracker would have produced. She cast caution to the winds and dashed away with a burst of speed that made the branches shake as if agitated by a heavy wind.
The Jaguar quickly slid to the ground and raced along underneath the fleeing monkey. As the latter neared the windfall Suma suddenly seemed to divine her intentions and sped on ahead, crossed the creeper-covered barrier and started up the tree the branches of which formed the far side of the aerial bridge. She had just time enough to crouch on the thick butt of a limb that overhung the passageway when the rustling of the leaves announced the arrival of Myla. A dark form emerged from the wall of trees opposite her and ran nimbly onto the swaying bridge. Suma waited with bated breath and blazing eyes as her claws crept out of their sheathes. Onward came the shadow-like figure, all unsuspicious of the vengeful fury that lay in wait; and when the monkey reached the border of her own country and, as she thought, safety, a lightning blow from a monstrous, claw-armed paw smote her from above and sent her hurtling to the cushion of creepers below.