WORTH MEETS A PANTHER.
To find themselves once more in their canoes, and to be
gliding over unknown waters, with new scenes unfolding at every turn,
was so exhilarating to the boys that they started up the river at
racing speed, shouting and laughing as they went. They were about to
disappear from the sight of the others around a bend of the stream when
they were checked by a shout from Lieutenant Carey. As he joined them
"We must keep together, boys, and regulate our speed by
that of the cruiser, for, in case of unforeseen difficulties or
dangers, it won't do for us to be separated. I wouldn't make any more
noise than is necessary either. There is no knowing what the Indians,
whose country we are entering, may take it into their heads to do.
While I do not anticipate any serious trouble from them, I would rather
avoid them as much as possible, and by proceeding quietly we may escape
their notice-at least for the present."
For the first mile or two the river-banks were hidden
beneath a dense growth of mangroves, though above these they could
catch occasional glimpses of the tops of pines and tall palmettoes. The
mangroves grew smaller and thinner, until finally they disappeared
entirely, and on tasting the water over which they floated our voyagers
found it to be fresh and sweet.
"There is no danger of our suffering from thirst on this
trip whatever may happen," said Sumner.
They were close to one of the banks as he spoke, and from
it there suddenly came a rushing sound, followed by the floundering
splash of some huge body in the water, so close at hand that their
canoes were violently rocked by the waves that immediately followed.
The suddenness of the whole proceeding drew a startled cry from Worth.
"What could it have been?" he asked in a low tone, and
with a very white face. "Was it a hippopotamus, do you think?" He had
seen the "hippos" splash into their tank in Central Park.
"Not exactly," laughed Sumner, who, after a slight start,
had quickly regained his composure. "It was a big alligator, and he
went so close under my canoe that I could have touched him with the
"Suppose he had upset us?"
"There wasn't any danger of that; he was more scared than
we were, but he knew enough to dive clear of us."
"But if he should take it into his head to attack us?"
"lie won't, though. Mr. Alligator is a great coward. If he
is disturbed while taking a sunbath on shore, he makes a blind rush for
the water in spite of all obstacles, but it is only because he is too
frightened to do anything else. Once safely in the water, he is glad
enough to sink quietly to the bottom without seeking the further
acquaintance of his enemies. That has always been my experience with
them, but then I have only known them where they were hunted a good
deal. The fellows where we are going may be bolder, but I have never
heard of alligators being anything but awful cowards."
Partly reassured by this, Worth regarded the next
alligator that he saw with greater composure, and before the day was
over he hardly minded them at all. He certainly had an opportunity of
becoming familiar with them, for they fairly swarmed in the river.
Nearly every sandspit showed from one to a dozen of them, of all sizes,
lying motionless in the warm sunlight.
Worth declared that some of them were twenty feet long;
but Sumner laughed at him, and said that twelve or thirteen feet at
most would be nearer the mark. In this statement he was supported by
Lieutenant Carey, who said that even a fifteen-foot alligator would be
a monster, and he doubted if one of that length had ever been seen.
Most of the scaly brutes, after finding themselves safely
in the water, would rise to the surface for one more look at the cause
of their fright. In thus rising, they only displayed the tops of their
heads, and as the canoes approached these would imperceptibly sink
until only four black spots, indicating the eyes and nostrils, were
visible. Then these, too, would disappear without leaving the faintest
ripple to mark the place where they had been. Often a quick spurt would
take the canoes to the spot in time for the boys to look down through
the clear water and see the great black body lying motionless on the
bottom, or darting swiftly away towards some safer hiding place.
Sometimes they saw tiny fellows, brightly marked with
yellow, and but recently hatched, Sunning themselves on broad lily
pads. These were never found in company with their elders, which,
Lieutenant Carey said, was because their papas were too fond of eating
When Sumner spoke of alligators' eggs and nests, Worth
asked, innocently, if the mother alligators sat on their eggs like hens.
At the mental picture thus presented Sumner laughed so
heartily that he could hardly wield his paddle, but Lieutenant Carey
explained that an alligator's nest is built of sticks, leaves, and
grass, very like a muskrat's house. "In the middle of this," he said,
"are laid from twenty to forty thick-shelled, pure white eggs, about
the size of the largest goose eggs. These are left to be hatched by the
heat of the sun and of the decomposing mass surrounding them. When they
break their shells, the little fellows immediately scramble for the
nearest water, where they are left to care for themselves without a
suggestion of parental guidance or advice. In fact, they are wise
enough from the very first to keep out of the way of their elders,
whose only love for them seems to be that of an epicure for a dainty
"Aren't there crocodiles, too, in Florida ?" asked Sumner.
"Yes. Professor Hornaday mentions genuine crocodiles as
being found in Biscayne Bay, on the east coast, where I hope we shall
get a look at them. They are described as differing from alligators in
the head, that of the crocodile being narrower and longer. The snout is
sharper than that of an alligator, and at the end of the lower jaw are
two long canine teeth or tusks that project through holes in the upper
"Him big fighter, too," remarked Quorum from the cruiser.
"Him heap mo' wicked dan de 'gator. De Injun call him 'Allapatta hajo,'
an' say hit mean mad 'gator."
As tile party advanced up the stream the current became so
much stronger that the boys began to feel the effects of their steady
paddling against it, and were no longer inclined to shoot ahead of the
others. The foliage of the banks changed with each mile, and by noon
the pines had given place to clumps of palmetto, bay, water oak, wild
fig, mastic, and other timber. Here and there were grassy glades, in
more than one of which they caught tantalizing glimpses of vanishing
The water began to assume an amber tint, and was so
brilliantly clear that in looking down through it they could see great
masses of coral rocks that often overshadowed the yawning mouths of
dark chasms. Above these, whole meadows of the most beautiful grasses
-- red, green, purple, and yellow -- streamed and waved with the
ceaseless motion of the current. Schools of bright-hued fish darted
through and over these, and turtles, plumping into the water from
stranded logs or sunny sandspits, could be seen scuttling away to their
hiding places among them.
The noontide heat of the sun was intense as the signal for
a halt was given. The boats were turned in towards a bank where a grass
plot, shaded by a clump of rustling palmettoes, offered a tempting
As they landed, Worth was certain that he saw a flock of
turkeys disappear in a small hammock back of the clearing. With his
new-born hunting instinct strong within him, he seized his gun and
crossed the glade, in the hope of getting a shot. He had practised
constantly on the call given him by his instructor, and now felt
competent to deceive even the most experienced gobbler. Advancing
cautiously within cover of the hammock, and seating himself on a log
that was completely concealed by a screen of bushes, he began to call,
"Keouk, keouk, keouk." For ten minutes or so he repeated the Sounds at
short intervals without getting a reply. Suddenly, a slight rustle in
the bushes behind him caused Worth to turn his head. Within a yard of
him glared a pair of cruel green eyes.
With a yell of terror the boy dropped his gun, Sprang to
his feet, burst from the bushes, and fled wildly towards camp. Reaching
it in safety, but hatless and breathless, he declared that a tiger had
been crouched, and just about to spring at him.
"Perhaps it was a 'coon," suggested Sumner.
"'Coon, indeed ?" cried Worth, hotly. "If you had seen the
size of its eyes, you would have thought it was an elephant!"
"What has become of your gun?" inquired the Lieutenant.
"I haven't the slightest idea," replied the boy; "and I
don't care. I wouldn't face those eyes again for a thousand guns."
Finally, however, he was persuaded to return with
Lieutenant Carey and Sumner, both well armed, and point out the scene
of his fright. They found his hat, the gun, and the log on which he had
been sitting. Then in the soft earth close behind it they also found a
double set of huge panther tracks -- one made while cautiously
approaching the supposed turkey, and the other while bounding away in
fright at Worth's yell.
"I don't wonder that you were both frightened," said the
Lieutenant, with a smile; "but now that your skill as a turkey-caller
is established, I wouldn't go out on a hunting expedition alone again
if I were you."
"Indeed I won't, sir. I'd rather never see another turkey
than risk being stared at by such a pair of eyes as that panther
carries round with him."
RATTLESNAKES AND RIFLE SHOTS
WHILE they were returning through the grassy glade, the
Lieutenant, who was a few steps in advance, suddenly stopped and sprang
back. The boys barely caught a glimpse of a fiat, wicked looking head,
from which a forked tongue was viciously thrusting, and heard a sound
like the whir-r-r-r of an immense locust, when Lieutenant Carey fired,
and the head disappeared in the tall grass.
"It was a snake, wasn't it ?" asked Worth.
"Worse than that," replied the Lieutenant. " It was a
diamondback rattler, the most venomous snake known to this country, and
with another step I should have been on him. I'd rather face your
panther unarmed than to have stepped on that fellow."
"What would you have done if you bad met it without a gun
in your hand?" asked Sumner, curiously.
"Hun," answered the Lieutenant, laconically, as he grasped
the lifeless body of the snake by the tail, with a view to dragging it
"B But if he had caught and bitten you?"
"He wouldn't have caught me, because, in the first place,
he would have been content to be let alone, and wouldn't have chased
me. In the second place, the rattlesnake is such a sluggish reptile
that I could run faster than he, and could easily have kept out of his
"Well, then, what would you do if you were bitten?"
"If it were on an arm or a leg, I should tie my
handkerchief above the wound, and twist it with a bit of stick as
tightly as possible, so as to impede the circulation. Then I should
enlarge the wound with my knife, and, if I could reach it with my
mouth, I should suck it for five minutes, frequently spitting out the
blood. After that I should get to camp as quickly; as possible, put a
freshly-chewed tobacco plaster on the wound every ten minutes for the
next hour, and at the same time drink a tumblerful of whiskey or other
alcoholic liquor. If I could do all that, and the fangs had not struck
an artery, I should feel reasonably sure of recovery."
" Suppose they had struck an artery, what would you do?"
"Reconcile myself to death as quickly as possible, for I
should probably be dead inside of three minutes," was the grim reply.
Worth shuddered as he gazed at the scaly body that, marked
with black and yellow diamonds, trailed for more than five feet behind
the Lieutenant, and remarked that the sooner they got away from the
haunts of panthers and rattlesnakes, and back among the good-natured
alligators, the better he should like it.
"I shouldn't think Indians would care to live in such a
rattlesnaky country," he added.
"They don't mind them," laughed the Lieutenant. "Their
keen eyesight generally enables them to discover a snake as soon as he
sees them. Then, too, they have an infallible antidote for snake bite,
the secret of which they refuse to divulge to white men."
"How many rattles has this fellow?" asked Sumner.
"Only seven," answered Lieutenant Carey, counting them.
"Then he was a young fellow. I thought from his size that
he must be pretty old, and would have twelve or thirteen rattles and a
button at least."
"The number of rattles does not indicate a snake's age,"
said the Lieutenant, smiling. "They get broken off, as do long
fingernails. I have seen very large snakes with fewer rattles than
others that were smaller and evidently younger.
While they were eating lunch Quorum skinned the snake,
rubbed the beautiful skin thoroughly with fine salt, and rolled it into
a compact bundle, in which condition it would keep for a long time.
After lunch and the hour's rest that followed it the
little fleet was again got under way, and proceeded up the swift river.
About the middle of the afternoon they entered the broad belt of
cypress timber that borders the Everglades on the west. Here the
serried ranks of tall trees, stretching away as far as the eye could
reach, held out their long moss-draped arms until they met overhead,
and formed a dim archway for the passage of the rushing current. The
water flowed with strange gurglings against the gray trunks, and the
whole scene was one of such weird solitude, that on entering it the
explorers shivered as with a chill. Through the semi-twilight fluffy
night herons flitted like gray shadows, and the harsh scream of an
occasional waterfowl, startled by the dip of paddles, echoed through
the gloomy forest like a cry of human distress.
The atmosphere of the place was so depressing that no one
spoke, but each bent to his paddle or oars with redoubled energy, the
quicker to escape into the sunshine that they knew must lie somewhere
Quorum, who had been sitting in the stern of the cruiser
while the sailor rowed, was finally made so nervous by his uncanny
surroundings that he begged his companion to change places with him. He
wished to row that his thoughts might be occupied with the hard work.
The sailor complied, though laughing at the negro's fears as he did so.
While Quorum was working with desperate energy to catch up with the
other boats, there came an incident of so startling a nature that in
relating it afterwards he said: "I tell yo, sah, de ole niggah so skeer
dat him come de neares' in he life to tu'nin' plumb white!"
It was a volley of rifle shots that flashed and roared
from the forest on the right bank of the river like thunder from a
clear sky. A second volley followed almost immediately, and then
succeeded such a din of yells, whoops, and howlings as would have
dismayed the stoutest heart.